Are Asia-Based Airliners More Dangerous?

February 4, 2015 Updated: February 4, 2015

It’s hard to know why most of the high-profile airplane crashes in the past year have involved Asia-based airliners, says one expert.

On Wednesday morning (local time), a TransAsia turboprop plane with 58 people on board crashed into the river in Taipei. It’s the second time the airliner experienced a fatal aviation accident in less than a year. Malaysia Airlines suffered two major aviation disasters last year, and an AirAsia plane crashed in December.

So is there a clear-cut reason why this is a phenomenon?

Stephen Richey, with Kolibri Aviation Safety and Survivability Research, tells Epoch Times that possibly “growing airlines, pressure to keep aircraft in service and the issue of operating in tropical environments and the associated weather probably all play a role.”

“That part of the world has never had the best safety record ,” he notes.

A former investigator at Indonesia’s National Transportation Safety Committee, Hanna Simatupang, told the Jakarta Post after the AirAsia disaster she feels Indonesia’s aviation community fails to uphold the principle of “safety first.”

“Safety first principles are not yet upheld in this country because aviation still sees profit as the priority,” said Hanna.

An immature industry with cost pressures can affect many aspects of how it operates. Are pilots trained thoroughly to cover emergency contingencies? Are equipment inspections rigorous and cautious enough? Is safety the guiding priority?

“As a point of fact, I won’t set foot on Indonesia-based airlines except the branch of AirAsia that operates from there. Lax government oversight when it comes to training, maintenance and other issues may play a role but it is too early to say.”

TransAsia, he adds, will likely see increased scrutiny, which will hurt the company’s business.

As a point of fact, I won’t set foot on Indonesia-based airlines except the branch of AirAsia that operates from there.
— Stephen Richey, Kolibri Aviation Safety and Survivability Research

“This is not only the second crash from that airline but also the second crash of the same basic type of aircraft from that operator in less than a year.” Richey says. 

TransAsia has suffered four fatal crashes since 1995.

Last July, a TransAsia flight crash 48 of the 58 on board when it crashed on Penghu Island in the Taiwan Strait. In Dec., 2012, a cargo plane crashed into the sea in icy killing both pilots. And in 1995, an ATR 72-200 operating at night, flew into a hillside 12 miles south of Songshan airport. All four crew members died.

The TransAsia plane crash on Wednesday has left at least 26 people dead and 15 people injured. Seventeen people are still considered missing. The plane hit a bridge and plunged into a river, which was captured via a dashcam.

Richey says the crashes might shed light on “the training and proficiency of the pilots” for TransAsia, and adds that “there may be oversights that contributed to those cases.”

The Asian aviation industry has rapidly increased in recent years, there’s been questions about the skill of the pilots in the region

“Aviation is growing at a fast pace in Asia. Some industry observers have expressed doubts about the supply of adequately skilled pilots. As to the aircraft, the safety record of the ATR 72 is similar to that of other airliners,” says Captain Tom Bunn, a longtime pilot and head of SOAR, which specializes in helping people overcome their fears of flying.

“TransAsia has been adding new routes rapidly since the Taiwanese carrier went public in 2011. TransAsia and others like it are rushing to keep up with a travel boom driven by the region’s growing middle class,” Bunn said.

Based on video footage of TransAsia crash, the pilots weren’t able to maintain control of the plane.

“When one engine loses power, the other engine produces more than enough power to maintain flight. Power coming from just one engine exerts a sideways pull on the plane. Pilots counteract that pull by using the rudder pedals. Based on video of the crash, which shows the plane descending, the pilots failed to maintain adequate speed and control of the plane,” Bunn said.

The crew of TransAsia GE235 made a mayday call shortly after it took off from Taipei Songshan airport reporting an engine flame. At a press conference, it was revealed that the left engine was recently replaced in Macau due to problems.

And as a point of reference, Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any region in the world, accounting for 40 percent of the global pilot demand.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.