Why I will never fly AirAsia

GEOFFREY THOMAS AVIATION EDITOR COMMENT - The West Australian

The question is being asked all over Perth - should we fly AirAsia to our favourite holiday destinations of Bali or Kuala Lumpur?

It's not quite as simple as "you get what you pay for".

But that is a major factor.

Qantas is the world's safest airline and it has the highest standards for training.

When you pay for your Qantas ticket, you are paying for some of the best-paid pilots who are likely to be Top Guns.


You are also paying for one of the world's most sophisticated plane monitoring systems that detects problems before they become serious.

But surveys taken before last year's extraordinary string of airline disasters show that, though 60 per cent of passengers have a fear of flying, only 27 per cent choose safety over price. Clearly, not all passengers put a value on their lives.

Low-cost airlines usually have tighter schedules with less back-up. So, when a plane breaks down, the disruptions can be longer. They work with fewer ground staff, which manifests as less customer service.

Low-cost airlines now make up almost 20 per cent of all travel into and out of Australia.

The big loser has been Qantas, with its market share declining from about 40 per cent in 1988 - when Dustin Hoffman's character in Rain Man uttered the famous words "Qantas never crashed" - to about 17 per cent last year.

Passengers have been turning their backs on Qantas as the safety records of its competitors have improved greatly, mainly through advances in plane safety. But, tragically, there are still plane crashes.

Low-cost airlines have been around since 1972 when Texas-based Southwest Airlines, with three planes, started serving just nuts on flights and charging rock-bottom fares.

AirAsia brought the low-cost concept to Asia in 2002. It has been a huge success, with more than 217 million passengers carried on the group's services.

It has joint-venture partners in Indonesia, Thailand, Japan and the Philippines, as well as long-range partner AirAsia X in Kuala Lumpur.


Crew members of Indonesian Air Force look out of the windows during a search operation. Picture: AP

Indonesia AirAsia operates five daily flights between Perth and Bali and AirAsia X flies twice daily between Perth and Kuala Lumpur.

Up to December 28, the airline group had operated without a fatality but it has not completed the International Air Transport Association's Operational Safety Audit.

Airlines that have done the IOSA have a 4.3 times better safety record than ones that have not. However, that is not to say AirAsia is 4.3 times less safe than other IOSA airlines - the ratio is distorted by the big number of Third World airlines with terrible crash records that have also ignored the audit.

The audit is an internationally recognised evaluation designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline.

Other major low-cost carriers that have not done IOSA include Southwest Airlines in the US and Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe.

They argue they have robust systems in place and do not need to do the audit.

AirlineRatings.com initially rated the AirAsia group five stars out of a possible seven because it had not done the audit.


A crew member of Indonesian Navy ship KRI Bung Tomo holds a piece of the window panel of AirAsia Flight 8501. Picture: AP

Other airlines flying into Perth that have not done IOSA include AirAsia X, Scoot and Tiger Airways.

But would I fly on Indonesia AirAsia? I never have and never will - though, as a rule, I don't fly on low-cost airlines because the seating is too cramped for my height.

It concerns me the airline has not done IOSA because, clearly, it makes a difference.

There has been considerable commentary since the Indonesia AirAsia crash about the safety of airlines in Indonesia and certainly most don't score high marks. But 120 people die on Indonesia's roads every day.

What airline you should fly on is a vexing question.

But perhaps the question to ask is: should you buy a more expensive car to ensure you're safer on the roads?