Highlighting the depth of Indonesia’s air safety problems, the transportation ministry announced harsh measures Monday against everyone who allowed AirAsia Flight 8501 to take off without proper permits — including suspension of the airport’s operator and officials in the control tower.
The routing permits of all airlines flying in the country also will be examined to see if they are violating the rules, said Djoko Murjatmodjo, acting director general of air transportation.
“Who knows if other airlines are also doing the same thing,” he said.
The crackdown comes as searchers continue to fight bad weather while combing the Java Sea for bodies and wreckage of the Airbus A320 that crashed Dec. 28, killing all 162 passengers and crew on board.
The plane was traveling between Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, and Singapore on a Sunday. Officials have since said its permit for the popular route was only for Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and that AirAsia quietly switched three of those days. Officials in Singapore, however, have said the plane was authorized to fly on Sundays from its end.
Applications for specific routes take into account issues including air traffic rights and airport takeoff and landing slots.
While the airline is being investigated, Indonesia has banned all AirAsia flights between Surabaya and Singapore.
AirAsia Indonesia President Director Sunu Widyatmoko said by text Monday that the airline will cooperate with the government during the evaluation, but would not comment on the permit allegations until the process is complete.
Violation of the regulations would boost legal arguments for passengers’ family members seeking compensation, said Alvin Lie, a former lawmaker and aviation analyst. But he added AirAsia would not be the only one to blame.
Meanwhile, the international hunt for the plane has recovered 37 bodies, including three Monday still fastened into their seats. Sonar has identified five large objects that are believed to be chunks of the fuselage on the ocean floor, but strong currents, silt and mud have kept divers from seeing or reaching the objects.
No signals have been heard from the cockpit voice and flight data recorders, or black boxes.