May 23, 2016
Malaysia’s Aurat Air: Regulatory Incompetence
by Mariam Mokhtar
Did the government simply rubber-stamp Rayani Air’s license to operate, without conducting detailed checks, including its cash-flow analysis and break-even point?
Mr. A A Kaprawi
The statement by Deputy Transport Minister Dato Abdul Aziz Kaprawi that the government will “be more stringent and impose a stricter standard operating procedure on all airlines” should set alarm bells ringing. It suggests that the government acted with haste and was extremely complacent.
So, how deeply committed is our government to safety and good management practices? Rayani Air is Malaysia’s first syariah compliant airline, but like any other airline, it must comply with rules and regulations.
Starting an airline is not merely about buying or leasing aeroplanes, then painting them in the new livery. Nor is it about finding the pilots, ground and cabin crew, engineers, and other personnel, to operate an airline.
Providing halal food, prayers before take-off and on landing, not serving alcohol, and staff who cover their aurat will not make an airline popular. Good and reliable service, efficient and friendly staff, well maintained planes, popular routes and accessible airports are part and parcel of a good airline experience.
Like any other business, Rayani Air’s owners would need funding and would have provided a business plan, to satisfy its backers or the bank. Did Rayani Air not do enough homework with regards to long-term funding? It cannot run Rayani Air for a few months, and hope that revenue from sales will enable it to continue. Even a simple home-based business does not operate like that.
When Rayani Air soared above Kuala Lumpur, in December, many people were sceptical because few people choose a certain airline, because it serves halal food. They base their judgement on the price, good safety record and reliability.
The Con-Artists of Aurat Air
Within months, the airline was dogged with delays, cancellations, a cracked cockpit windscreen and maintenance issues. Amongst other things, passengers were furious that their boarding passes were not printed.
Passengers were forced to travel on a coach service provided by the airline, although they would have preferred to be put on a later flight. Delays were common and stories about 485 employees not being paid, were leaked to the press.
Things came to a head on April 11, when Rayani Air’s Air Operation Certificate (AOC) was suspended, for three months, after it temporarily halted its operations following a pilot strike. The airline had failed to seek the Department of Civil Aviation’s (DCA) permission before ceasing operations.
Instead of dealing with the criticism of the passengers and staff, Rayani Air’s Chief Executive Officer, Ravi Alagendrran, said that the cracked windscreen was due to sabotage. He did not bother to wait for the results of an investigation. His statement attracted bad publicity, because it suggested that the airline had enemies.
He later retracted this statement, but he had introduced doubt in people’s minds about safety and security. The shattered windscreen was spotted by pilots, before the flight took off. Passengers may have wondered whether the alleged saboteur had damaged a vital piece of equipment, in a hidden part of the aeroplane and the fault was not detected in time.
The CEO’s statement about sabotage, probably infuriated the people managing Langkawi airport, as passengers wondered if security in the airport was lax.
According to The Malay Mail Online, pilots had refused to fly because the company’s two aircraft had structural faults. The airframe, which is the aircraft’s mechanical structure, that includes its fuselage, wings and undercarriage, was unsafe.
Perhaps, the blame should not rest solely with the airline bosses. The government and the DCA are also to blame. They gave Rayani Air the go-ahead. They rubber-stamped the permit to fly, without checking the safety and viability of the aeroplanes, and funding to operate, for more than three months.
The government must tell would be business owners not to commercialise Islam. The government must stop deluding itself and thinking that a syariah compliant service need not follow normal business guidelines. It is not God’s will that makes an airline safe, but man’s endeavour. –