Tuesday, January 19, 2021
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Virgin Australia extends flexible fee-free booking

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia has extended fee-free booking flexibility for travel until June 30 in a bid to give customers spooked by Australia’s domestic border closures more peace of mind.

The increased flexibility — the airline had previously offered it for travel until March 31 — is available for bookings made by March 31 under a revised customer policy.

The announcement was accompanied by a snap “happy hour” sale until midnight AEDT January 14 involving 300,000 fares starting at $69 one-way.

The move comes as COVID outbreaks and fears about new variants disrupted the holiday plans of thousands of Australians over the Christmas break.

A Virgin spokesman said the announcement was about giving customers peace of mind when making new bookings or changing an existing booking.

“We’ve seen many travelers’ plans impacted by domestic border restrictions and so we’re here to give them comfort when booking a Virgin Australia flight that they’ll be able to change their travel date if they need to,’’ he said.

READ: US joins countries requiring pre-flight COVID testing.

“With a vaccine on the way, coupled with the fantastic way Australians have managed the pandemic, we’re optimistic that border restrictions will be lifted in the not-too-distant future.

“Our extended flexibility will help to give travelers the confidence they need to make a booking and plan that long-awaited holiday or family reunion, knowing that the booking is protected.”

Australian carriers have not been as generous as some of their overseas counterparts when it comes to change fees.

American Airlines, for example, eliminated all change fees for first, business, premium economy for all domestic and short-haul international flying for tickets issued from August 31.

United Airlines also permanently eliminated change fees on all standard economy and premium cabin tickets for travel within the US.

By contrast, Qantas has a complicated cancelation system that depends on when a passenger booked their flight and when they travel.

Passengers on flights before March 31 can cancel a booking and retain the full value as a flight credit.

Passengers need to request the flight credit before departure and travel must be taken by December 31, 2022.

“When you’re ready to rebook, you’ll need to cover any change fee and any fare increase in your new booking, if applicable,” the airline says on its website.

Those traveling after March 31 can also request a flight credit if they rebook but must travel within 12 months of their original booking date.

“Our standard fare rules apply, so you may be charged a change or cancellation fee,” the airline says. “You’ll also need to cover any fare increase in your new booking, if applicable.”

 

 

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Airbus wins the 2020 aircraft delivery stakes hands down

Airbus
Photo: Airbus

A more resilient Airbus creamed its troubled US rival when it came to commercial aircraft deliveries in 2020 as Boeing delivered its lowest number of planes in almost half a century.

The impact on aviation of the COVID-19 pandemic was compounded for Boeing by the ongoing grounding of the 737 MAX and manufacturing problems later in the year with its widebody 787 Dreamliner.

Boeing’s woes meant the US company delivered just 157 commercial aircraft compared to 566 at Airbus.

Not weighed down by problems with its single-aisle aircraft, Airbus delivered 446 members of the A320 family, the majority of them neos. Also delivered: 38 A220s, 19 A330s, 59 A350s and four A380s.

READ: How safe is the Boeing 737?

However, the Europeans did not escape the ravages of the pandemic and deliveries were down 34 percent from 863 in 2019. Net orders also plummeted from 768 in 2019 to 268 in 2020.

But it won 383 new orders during the year, including 296 A320 Family orders, 37 of which were for A321XLRs. In the widebody segment, Airbus won 23 new orders including two A330s and 21 A350s

Cancelations saw the European planemaker’s backlog fall from 7,482 to 7148.

Airbus said it overcame travel restrictions with an innovative e-delivery solution which represented more than 25 percent of the 2020 deliveries.

This allowed customers to receive their aircraft while minimizing the need for their teams to travel.

“Based on our 2020 deliveries we are cautiously optimistic as we look into 2021, although challenges and uncertainties remain high in the short term,” Airbus chief executive Guillaume Faury said.

Boeing’s 2020 figures were badly hit by the 737 Max woes and it delivered just 43 737s  during the year as it watched customers cancel 641 orders.

The Max resumed deliveries in December and Boeing had delivered 31 by year’s end.

Other deliveries comprised five 747s, 30 767s, 26 777s and 53 787s.

“The resumption of 737 MAX deliveries in December was a key milestone as we strengthen safety and quality across our enterprise,’’ Boeing chief financial officer Greg Smith said.

“ We also continued comprehensive inspections of our 787 airplanes to ensure they meet our highest quality standards prior to delivery.

“While limiting our 787 deliveries for the quarter, these comprehensive inspections represent our focus on safety, quality and transparency, and we’re confident that we’re taking the right steps for our customers and for the long-term health of the 787 program.”

Smith said the manufacturer was we’re working closely with customers and monitoring the slow international traffic recovery in 2021 “to align supply with market demand across our widebody programs”

“In 2021, we’ll continue taking the right actions to enhance our safety culture, preserve liquidity and transform our business for the future,’’ he added.

US joins countries requiring pre-flight COVID testing

COVID
Photo: SITA.

The United States has joined a string of other countries requiring international arrivals to take a pre-flight COVID test as it attempts to slow the introduction of new variants.

A health order issued by the Centers for Disease Control prohibits entry to the US of any arriving aircraft passenger who does not have a negative result from a test taken up to 72 hours prior to departure.

Passengers who have previously had COVID-19 must provide written or electronic documentation showing they recorded a positive viral test result and a letter from a licensed health care provider or public health official showing they are fit for travel.

READ: More airlines could fail as forward bookings stall.

The order applies from January 26 to US citizens and foreigners over the age of two. Anyone who does not meet the requirements will be denied boarding.

“Testing before and after travel is a critical layer to slow the introduction and spread of COVID-19. This strategy is consistent with the current phase of the pandemic and more efficiently protects the health of Americans,’’ the CDC said in the health order.

“Variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus continue to emerge in countries around the world, and there is evidence of increased transmissibility of some of these variants.

“With the US already in surge status, the testing requirement for air passengers will help slow the spread of the virus as we work to vaccinate the American public.”

Passengers will need to show the documentation initially to an airline but must also retain it and produce it on request to any US government official or “cooperating state or local public health authority”.

The onus will be on airlines and other aircraft operators to verify that every passenger two years or older is cleared for travel and that they have the necessary documentation.

International travel has already been devastated by tightening COVID-19 restrictions being imposed worldwide and the International Air Transport Association expects problems to continue through the first half of 2021.

The US move follows similar actions by countries such as Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

The CDC said it had delayed the introduction of the requirement to allow passengers and airlines to adapt but CDC director Robert Redfield warned it did not eliminate all risk.

However, when combined with other precautions such as a period of staying at home, masks and social distancing, “it can make travel safer, healthier, and more responsible by reducing spread on planes, in airports, and at destinations”.

US carriers are already reacting to the move and Delta Air Lines said it had proactively issued a fare difference waiver for customers rebooking international tickets on or before January 12.

The US has the highest number of infections and deaths in any country with more than 22 million cases and 375,000 deaths.

More airlines could fail as forward bookings stall

airlines
Photo: O'Hare International Airport.

Airlines are facing a difficult first half in 2021 after a recovery in bookings sparked by positive news about COVID vaccines stalled, leading to renewed warnings some carriers might not survive.

Forward bookings for February and March are down more than 80 percent year-on-year globally as COVID cases have increased and governments have reimposed travel restrictions.

The restrictions halted a sluggish recovery prompted by news about the availability of COVID vaccines towards the end of the last year and affected recovering domestic markets in Russia and China.

The International Air Transport Association has been lobbying unsuccessfully to replace quarantine restrictions with a global testing regime.

READ: Crucial black box recovered from Sriwijaya crash.

A renewed wave of COVID infections has seen the reverse happen, with countries such as Germany, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and Canada adding testing to quarantine. Hong Kong increased the quarantine period to 21 days and banned travel from South Africa and the UK.

Global airline shares have continued to lag the wider market although there was an uptick in the final quarter of 2020. The Reuters Global Airlines share price index ended the year about 30 percent below the FTSE All World index.

READ: How safe is the Boeing 737?

In its first briefing for 2021, IATA warned that the reversal of the nascent recovery and the stalling of international travel growth had set back recovery in 2021.

IATA chief economist Brian Pearce warned carriers would continue to burn cash for at least the next six months before a transition to cash generation towards the end of the year.

“If anything, the immediate future has got worse because of the impact of the virus, because of travel restrictions and because of what we know airlines are doing in cutting their schedules for the first few months of this year,’’ he said.

Pearce warned that many carriers may not be able to wait until the end of the year for stronger revenues.

“Larger airlines have built up substantial cash balances but many airlines have not been able to do so,’’ he said.

There was a relatively low number of airline failures in 2020 despite a catastrophic collapse in airline revenue and Pearce said few airlines would have been able to continue trading under current conditions in normal circumstances.

“It was really purely because governments have stepped in,’’ he said. “To date, we’ve counted aid of $197 billion dollars (and) that has kept airlines on life support.

“So we saw only about 40 or 50 airlines fail or be restructured under bankruptcy, which is a relatively small number.

”The challenge now is to make the restart of the industry economically viable because it’s still extremely challenging.”

The IATA economist said governments would still need to look carefully at the airlines serving and based in their countries as they grappled with conditions in the first half of the year.

“The next six months, except for those airlines who have raised a lot of cash, could see airlines fail before we see the vaccines make a significant difference to passenger revenues later this year,” he said.

IATA is sticking with its prediction that airline passenger levels will not recover to 2019 levels until 2023. Long-haul markets are expected to recover more slowly with revenue passenger kilometres reaching 2019 levels a year later.

It expects it take some time to reach COVID herd immunity, despite a rapid ramp-up of vaccination programs in some advanced economies, and for consumers to get back to pre-crisis behavior and patterns of travel.

Even then, airlines will be facing a big debt burden they will be keen to pay down as soon as possible.

“The challenge as airlines move into the recovery phase, which we’re hoping for at least in the second half of this year, is going to be the burden of debt,” Pearce said.

“There’s been a huge build-up of debt in airlines that has really been the cost of the aid and also airlines have raised cash by issuing debt on capital markets in order to survive.

“So airlines are going to be focused on repaying that debt and that’s going to be a major focus of action over the next couple of years.”

 

 

How safe is the Boeing 737?

Boeing
Photo: Boeing

Boeing’s slow climb back to credibility in the flying public’s eyes after the 737 MAX tragedies has been dealt a major blow with the crash of yet another 737 in Indonesia on Saturday.

The Sriwijaya Air loss — a 737-500 — that claimed 62 lives was the fourth fatal accident involving a 737 in the past 12 months.

READ: Black box recovered from Sriwijaya Air 737

READ: Qatar Airways A350 the ultimate Airbus aircraft.

A Ukraine International Airlines 737 was shot down in Tehran, a Pegasus Air 737 overran the runway in Istanbul in a violent storm and an Air India Express 737 also overran Calicut airport in India.

One of the reasons the 737 — and its competitor the A320 — are involved in more crashes is because they often operate in and out of short runways, in mountainous regions, and in countries with limited navigation aids.

The Air India Express accident in August last year was a classic case where the pilot landed the 737 almost 1000m down a tabletop runway and the aircraft plunged down a cliff.

Miraculously only 21 of the 190 on board were killed.

The sheer number of 737s and A320s, and the number of flights they perform every day — typically five or six sectors — mean they are in the news a great deal more than their more glamorous and much larger cousins the 747 and A380. Boeing has built over 10,600 737s and Airbus, 9572 A320s, compared to just over 1500 747s and 243 A380s.

The problem for Boeing, and the airlines that operate the 737, is that to the flying public a 737 is a 737.

There are however vast differences in the models.

The first 737 — the series 100 and 200 — could carry 124 passengers over 2,775km and were introduced in the last 60s.

The next model the 737-300/400/500/600 series was a major upgrade with CFM engines and today that line is called the “classics.”

Responding to the introduction of the Airbus A320 Boeing launched the 737 Next Generation (NG) series with the 700/800/900 models and these have been the most successful.

The NGs were a major upgrade aerodynamically and performance-wise and can seat up to 220 passengers and fly over 5,500km.

Boeing has built over 7000 of this model.

The safety of each upgrade has also improved dramatically up to the MAX.

The 737-100/200 series has a hull loss rate of 1.8 per million flights, while the classics hull loss rate is 0.76 per one million flights.

The NGs have dramatically reduced that to just 0.18 per one million flights, compared to a 747-400 which has a hull loss rate of 1.15.

However, the black mark is the MAX with a loss rate of 7.21 per one million flights, due to the fact there were so few flying when the two tragedies occurred in late 2018 and early 2019.

After a 20-month grounding to re-design its software and make other improvements, the MAX is now starting to return to service. The US and Brazil have lifted the grounding order and Europe and Canada are expected to follow later this month.

So far there has been no resistance from the public to flying on the MAX and a number of airlines — such as Alaska Airlines and Ryanair — have re-ordered the aircraft.

 

Crucial black box recovered from Sriwijaya crash.

sriwijaya black box
The recovered black box. Photo: detikcom via Twiiter.

A flight data recorder retrieved Tuesday by Indonesian authorities is the best chance of identifying the circumstances that led to a Sriwijaya Air Boeing 737 plunging into the sea shortly after take-off on Saturday.

The tragedy claimed 62 lives when the 26-year-old Boeing 737-500 crashed less than five minutes after taking off Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

Several media outlets confirmed Tuesday that one of the black boxes had been found and had been shipped back to Jakarta.

The Australian reported National Transportation Safety Committee deputy chief Haryo Satmiko confirmed it was the flight data recorder and that investigators were still searching for the cockpit voice recorder.

Officials located the black boxes on Sunday but ran into trouble retrieving them because of wreckage strewn across the seafloor.

The search was also hampered because underwater beacons designed to help searchers locate the devices had become detached, officials said.

The head of the National Transport Safety Committee, Soerjanto Tjahono, said it would take two to five days to read the flight data recorder’s data.

“We are expecting that through this investigation we can unfold the mystery of this accident,’’ he told CNN.

Officials believe the plane was still intact when it hit the sea on January 9 because of the spread of the wreckage and the fact the aircraft was transmitting information as it plummeted. They say this rules out a mid-air explosion.

Flight SJ182 was not on its assigned heading but the pilots did not respond to queries from air traffic control about the change. Why this was so will be among the questions investigators will be hoping information on the black boxes will answer.

The aging Sriwijaya plane was about 11 nautical miles north of Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta  International Airport on a flight between Jakarta and Pontianak in Borneo when contact was lost.

It was under the control of experienced pilots and officials revealed Tuesday it had been grounded during the COVID-19 pandemic and passed an inspection to return it to service on December 14.

It made its first flight about five days after the inspection without passengers and returned to service shortly afterward.

Searchers have retrieved body parts and wreckage, including part of an engine, some of which have already been taken to Jakarta.

Flight tracking and specialist air crash sites have already revealed some information about the flight, the departure of which had been delayed by heavy rain.

SEE: AR’s Geoffery Thomas talking about the crash on the BBC and ABC

The Aviation Herald reported the aircraft had departed Soekarno International Airport at 2:36 pm local time, climbed through 1700 feet and was cleared to 29,000 feet.

“Departure control subsequently noticed that the aircraft was not on its assigned heading of 075 degrees, but tracking northwesterly and queried the crew about the heading at 14:40L, but received no reply, within second(s) the aircraft disappeared from radar,” it said.

Flightradar24 ADS-B data showed the 737 departed on runway 25R and was climbing through 10,600 feet at 2:39:50 pm local time about 11nm north of Soekarno airport then lost 10,000ft of altitude in less than a minute.

Authorities have said damaged engine parts indicate the aircraft was still functioning down to 250ft.

Rex cites industry pressure to tighten refunds

Rex pressure
Photo: Rex.

Australia’s Regional Express (Rex) claims it has been criticized by rivals because of its more liberal COVID refund policy but has declined to reveal details.

Rex general manager of network strategy Warrick Lodge said in a statement that the regional carrier’s refund policy had been criticized by other carriers and vowed that it would not give in to “industry pressure”.

But when asked for further details or the criticism and its source, an airline spokesman said the company could not reveal details of confidential discussions.

READ: Virgin lounge network expands with Perth and Gold Coast.

The claim came as the airline reiterated its promise of full refunds for customers whose travel has been stymied by COVID-19, including “use-it-or-lose-it” promotional fares.

As Australia suffers another wave of border closures and restrictions, the airline says it will provide refunds for people who cannot fly because of border or travel restrictions even if they are on a service that is still operating as scheduled.

The airline’s refund policy is more liberal than those at rivals Qantas and Virgin Australia and Lodge said the airline remained committed to a full refund of tickets affected by any flight cancelation or rescheduling “without exception”.

“Rex will be offering a full refund of tickets for passengers who are directly affected by current and future COVID-related border closures or traveling restrictions, even though our flights continue to operate as scheduled,’’ he said. “This even applies to promotional ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ tickets.”.

Lodge said the airline in 2020 proactively refunded tens of thousands of valid tickets booked directly with the airline “even without a refund request”.

He said it also sent eight monthly reminders to travel agents to seek refunds from Rex on behalf of their clients.

“The Rex COVID refund policy goes far beyond the guarantees provided under Australian Consumer Law and seeks to alleviate the considerable hardships our passengers are already facing during the pandemic,’’ he said. “It also removes the risk they take in making bookings for future travel during this period of uncertainty.”

Muddying the water, however, is Victoria’s new “traffic light’ policy of color-coded graduated restrictions.

The Victorian system bans people who have visited a red zone in the past 14 days from entering the state without an exemption.

Those from an orange zone, which includes regional NSW,  can apply for a permit but are required to take a COVID test within 72 hours and self-isolate until they get a negative result.

People from a green zone must also apply for a permit but do not need to be tested or isolate.

Asked what would happen if customers from the orange zone decided to cancel travel to Victoria because of fears they could hit limitations or problems, the Rex spokesman said it would make a case-by-case assessment where travel was still permitted to a passenger.

Refunds have been a touchy subject with airlines generally as they faced crippling losses and moved to limit cash burn during the pandemic by trying to steer customers into accepting credits for future travel.

Customers who booked flights with Virgin Australia before it went into administration are still forced to accept flight credits although refunds are available for those who booked after the carrier’s return to service and whose flights are canceled.

Rex has not escaped scrutiny on this issue and in September last year, the West Australian consumer commissioner announced the airline had agreed to review its policies and procedures to ensure compliance with Australian Consumer Law.

The airline agreed to modify some terms and conditions on its website regulators believed had the potential to mislead consumers by giving the impression a refund was not available under any, or very limited, circumstances.

“The circumstances in question were before the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and we acknowledge that Rex has taken proactive steps during the pandemic to assist customers and offer appropriate remedies,’’ WA Consumer Protection Commissioner Lanie Chopping said at the time.

Emirates returns to Seattle, Dallas and San Franciso

Emirates

Emirates is resuming non-stop services to Seattle, Dallas and San Francisco and increasing capacity on other routes as part of expanded operations to the Americas.

Flights to Seattle start February 1 while Dallas and San Francisco services will kick off March 2.

The move is part of a progressive restart of Emirates’ operations that sees it currently serving 114 destinations on six continents.

READ: Virgin Australia expands lounge network.

The additional destinations will bring the Dubai-based carrier’s North American network to 10 destinations after the resumption of services to Boston, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Toronto and Washington DC.

Flights to and from San Francisco will operate four times weekly on Emirates’ Boeing 777-300ER while flights, while Seattle services will operate four times weekly and Dallas three times weekly.

The Seattle and Dallas services will be operated with the two-class Boeing 777-200LR, offering 38 lie-flat seats in business and 264 seats in economy.

The airline is also increasing flights to New York, Los Angeles and Brazil’s Sao Paulo.

Flights to New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport increase to double daily from February 1 while Los Angeles moves to a daily service.

In South America, Emirates is introducing a fifth weekly flight to Sao Paulo from February 5.

The airline says the extra capacity to the Americas is in line with increased passenger demand.

The Gulf carrier continues to offer passengers affected by COVID-19 flexibility with tickets valid for 24 months after the original date of booking.

The ticket will be accepted on any flight to the same destination or within the same region in the same travel class with no additional fees during this period.

This means that if the original booking was for London, a passenger could change their destination to Amsterdam in the same booking class for no additional cost.

Emirates has also arranged multi-risk travel insurance with COVID-19 cover for tickets purchased after December 1, 2020.

The cover is automatic and included in the price of a ticket. The coverage ends when a passenger returns to their country of departure or 48 hours after arrival on a one-way ticket.

The cover does not apply to tickets purchased from another airline for a journey containing Emirates sectors.

 

 

Boeing to give space station a solar boost

space station boeing solar
Image: Boeing

Homeowners are not alone in wanting to add solar panels to boost electricity production — the International Space Station is also getting an upgrade.

Boeing announced it will supply six more solar arrays starting  2021 to boost the power supply at the International Space Station using some of the most powerful solar cells ever launched into space.

The Spectrolab XTJ Prime space solar cells are the same as those used in Boeing’s CST Starliner and have an efficiency of more than 30 percent. Spectrolab, a Boeing company,  also produced the station’s original cells.

READ: Innovative new aircraft designed to fly indefinitely.

“The XTJ Prime space solar cells are much more efficient than any of their predecessors and are fit to support the cutting-edge research being done aboard the International Space Station,” said Spectrolab president Tony Mueller.

The new 63ft-by-20ft (19m-by-6m) arrays will together produce more than 120 kilowatts of electricity enough to power more than 40 average US homes and provide a 20 to 30 percent increase in power at the space station.

The aerospace giant says the arrays will provide ISS with electricity to sustain its systems and equipment, plus augment the electricity available to continue a wide variety of public and private experiments and research in the station’s unique microgravity environment.

“When it comes to game-changing research and technological development, the space station is currently hitting its full stride,” said John Mulholland, ISS vice president and program manager for Boeing.

“These arrays, along with other recent upgrades to the station’s power system and data-transfer speed, will ensure that ISS remains an incubator and business model in the commercial space ecosystem for the coming decades.

“Access to this unique lab will continue to pay off as researchers study the challenges of future deep-space exploration and make discoveries that improve life on Earth.”

US-based Deployable Space Systems will produce the structure of the new arrays, including the canister and frame that will unfurl to hold the solar-array blankets in place.

Deployable Space Systems also built the canister, frame and solar array blanket for a prototype of the new arrays that was successfully tested aboard the ISS in June 2017.

The space station is being constantly upgraded and as prime sustainment contractor,  Boeings says its studies have determined it could operate safely beyond 2030 if NASA and its international partners choose to do so.

The station’s batteries, communications and scientific equipment racks have been upgraded and two international docking adapters made by Boeing have been added to allow spacecraft to dock autonomously.

The US in 2020 regained the capability to ferry its own astronauts to the space station after being forced to rely on Russia since the end of the shuttle program.

However, there are cracks in this optimistic outlook and the station’s future remains uncertain as issues about government funding and the cost of maintaining the aging facility come to a head in the coming years.

Options include deorbiting the space station, handing it over to private ownership or using it as a hub for lunar missions, or building a new orbital station or stations.

Divers yet to retrieve black boxes from Sriwijaya crash

Sriwijaya
The remains of an engine. from the doomed jetliner. Photo: Barsanas

Indonesian authorities say attempts to retrieve crucial black boxes from a crashed Sriwijaya Air jet have been hampered by wreckage strewn across the seafloor.

Indonesian National Transport Safety Committee chief Soerjanto Tjahjono had initially hoped the recorders could be retrieved Monday after searchers detected signals broadcast by the safety devices.

However, divers by Monday night had still to retrieve the bright orange recorders, thought to be within 150m to 200m of wreckage.

“We have two spots that highly suspected as a location of two black boxes. But unfortunately there is a lot of debris around that spots,” Indonesia Navy Commander Admiral Yudo Margono told CNN Monday.
Margono said a diving team was working to clear out debris, and hoped to recover the devices “soon.”

The flight data and cockpit voice recorders will be critical in determining what caused the Boeing 737-500 jet with 62 people on board to plummet 10,000 ft in less than a minute and smash into the sea minutes after take-off from Jakarta.

Officials believe the plane was still intact when it hit the sea on January 9 because of the spread of the wreckage and the fact the aircraft was transmitting information as it plummeted.

Flight SJ182 was not on its assigned heading but the pilots did not respond to queries from air traffic control about the change. Why this was so will be among the questions investigators will be hoping information on the black boxes will answer.

The aging Boeing 737 was about 11 nautical miles north of Jakarta’s Soekarno International Airport on a flight between Jakarta and Pontianak in Borneo when contact was lost.

Searchers have retrieved body parts and wreckage, including part of an engine, some of which have already been taken to Jakarta.

Flight tracking and specialist air crash sites have already revealed some information about the flight.

SEE: AR’s Geoffery Thomas talking about the crash on the BBC and ABC

The Aviation Herald reported the aircraft had departed Soekarno International Airport at 2:36 pm local time, climbed through 1700 feet and was cleared to 29,000 feet.

“Departure control subsequently noticed that the aircraft was not on its assigned heading of 075 degrees, but tracking northwesterly and queried the crew about the heading at 14:40L, but received no reply, within second(s) the aircraft disappeared from radar,” it said.

Flightradar24 ADS-B data showed the 737 departed on runway 25R and was climbing through 10,600 feet at 2:39:50 pm local time about 11nm north of Soekarno airport then lost 10,000ft of altitude in less than a minute.

Sriwijaya
The crashed aircraft. Photo: Panji Anggoro via Flightradar24.

Three fishermen from nearby Lancang Island told CNN they had heard an explosion and experienced a sudden large wave about the time the plane is thought to have crashed in dark and rainy conditions.

They smelled fuel and spotted debris, one of them said.

“I heard very loud explosion. I thought it was a bomb or a big thunder. We then saw the big wave, about 2 meters high, hitting our boat,” Hendrik Mulyadi told the network.

Hendrik’s colleague, Solihin, described the sound as “a bomb on the water.”

The aircraft was carrying 50 passengers, including seven children and three babies, and 12 crew members. All were Indonesian.

Media reports said the captain, Afwan, was a former air force veteran who had decades of flying experience, His first officer had also accrued more than 5000 hours on a Boeing 737 over seven years.

One passenger is said to have missed the flight because his COVID PCR test results had not arrived prior to departure.

SEE: World’s safest airlines 2021

The crash aircraft is more than 26 years old but airline officials said it was in good condition.

It is a much older plane than the 737 MAX and pre-dates a controversial flight software system linked to two fatal MAX crashes.

The crash has prompted renewed speculation about Indonesia’s chequered safety record and comes after the 2018 crash of Lion Air B737 MAX with 189 onboard and a 2014 disaster involving an AirAsia Airbus A320 carrying 162 passengers and crew.

Indonesian airlines were at one stage blacklisted by the European Union because of worries about safety oversight but all carriers from the populous South-East Asian nation were removed from the list in 2018 after it passed an International Civil Aviation Organization country audit.

Nonetheless, questions have persisted about pilot training and maintenance at some carriers.

 

 

 

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