Do budget carriers mean low cost, high risk
Tuesday, 18 September 2007: The crash of Thai budget carrier One-Two-Go is the latest in a line of air disasters involving low cost carriers. According to an article by Asia Sentinel, the crash has raised concerns regarding the ability for low-cost airlines to maintain satisfactory safety standards.
In 2006, the growth of low-cost flights operating to and from Asia increased 666 percent from 2005, according to a report by Business Week. This surge in low cost carriers has undoubtedly fuelled competition on routes traditionally monopolised by flag carriers and lowered airfares for everyday consumers.
However, in many markets across Asia, fares have dropped so low that many are questioning the standard of safety inspection and maintenance procedures. For instance, this month, low-cost carriers AirAsia X and Jetstar are offering promotional flights from Kuala Lumpur to Melbourne for just RM10 (US$2.89).
The increase in flight volume, coupled with low cost pressures has placed increased strain on the entire aviation industry in Asia. The Chinese and Indian aviation sectors alone require some 4,000 new pilots each year. According to Asia Sentinel, out of the 1.2 million pilots in Asia, only 14 percent have qualified for the Professional Airline Pilots License.
No doubt, this has played a contributing factor to the many air safety disasters that have occurred in Asia since 2004. For instance, when Indonesia’s Adam Air reported a missing Boeing 737-400 on New Year’s Day, pieces were later found 300 kilometres offshore. In February, another Adam Air 737 cracked in half when it hit the ground at Surabaya airport. An audit of Indonesia’s airlines revealed that out of the 51 low cost carriers operating in the country, eleven did not fulfil civil aviation requirements and seven others were considered ‘least safe’.
In a study titled “Perspectives on the Development of Low-Cost Airlines in Southeast Asia”, it is suggested that low-cost carriers are able to offer low prices because they cut expenses to the bone. For instance, AirAsia has an aircraft turn around time of 22 minutes at Kuala Lumpur International Airport and keeps planes in the air 10 hours a day. Pilots are also taught to burn 770 US gallons of fuel per hour, compared with the 1,100 gallons burnt per hour by Malaysia Airlines. As a result, AirAsia has the lowest costs per average seat per kilometre in the world.
Pilots will also attempt to land under considerably lower tolerances in order to cut costs – much to the detriment of customer safety. According to eyewitness reports, the One-Two-Go crash at Phuket occurred in rain and wind so heavy that trees were bending over. The aircraft only received permission to abort the landing at the last minute, when it skidded off the runway and burst into flames.
While a lower bottom line ensures lower prices for customers, does this discount come at a higher cost later on?