Mon, 08 Nov 1999

Merpati may suspend New Year flights

By Christiani S.A. Tumelap

SURABAYA (JP): State-owned Merpati Nusantara Airlines, the country's main domestic airline operator, has announced that some of its flights may be suspended over New Year, even though all the airline computer systems were Y2K compliant.

Executive president for operations Moch. Masykoer said on Friday all computer systems in the airline's fleet, traffic system and ground management were Y2K compliant.

"From now on, the general public does not have to hesitate about traveling with us during that particular time," he said during a media visit to the Merpati Training and Maintenance Facilities at the Juanda Airport here.

Despite safety assurances from Masykoer, he said that Merpati was considering suspending flights on New Year's Eve to areas near Batam such as Pangkal Pinang in Riau province and Medan in North Sumatra.

He said a further study on the fly zones around the areas was needed to determine whether it would be safe to fly across the zone at that particular time.

"We're going to assess the volume of traffic flow and level of probability of mode failure, as well as the preparedness of the airport management in each destination area," he said.

Areas near Batam required further study because they were close to Singapore, a destination known for its very heavy traffic flow. Masykoer said Singapore was not in direct coordination with Indonesia in preparing for the Y2K computer glitch.

He said that on New Year's Eve a one-way, instead of reciprocal, air traffic flow must be established to avoid a worst-case scenario -- such as an air collision -- caused by possible mode failure.

"We may have to suspend flights to several areas if the traffic there is too crowded or if we are not sure about the preparedness of the airport system there," he said, adding that the decision on whether to suspend some flights would be made by the end of November.

With 270 domestic routes, Merpati operates three international flights, from Kupang in the East Nusa Tenggara province to Darwin in Northern Australia, from Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and from Denpasar to Port Hedland in Western Australia.

Merpati operates at least six night flights to a variety of destinations including Irian Jaya towns in Jayapura, Biak and Merauke and the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar (formerly known as Unjungpandang).

Merpati has a fleet of 71 airplanes: three Boeing 737s, three Fokker 100s, 23 Fokker 28s, 13 Fokker 27s, 12 CN 235s, nine Casa and eight DHC Twin Otters.

Merpati currently only operates 31 of the airplanes, with the remainder grounded due to inability to procure spare parts.


Masykoer said flights to remote areas, such as in Irian Jaya as well as Bima and Labuan Bajo in West Nusa Tenggara, would be safer because the local airports did not use sophisticated information technology systems vulnerable to Y2K problems.

He said the situation differed from airports with more sophisticated airport systems and heavier air traffic flow -- factors which made them prone to Y2K problems -- such as in Jakarta, Surabaya, Bali, Makassar and Medan.

"But the airport authorities in these areas have been preparing themselves against the Y2K problems, the results of which are being informed to us. So there is no need to worry about the safety of flying to these destinations."

The Y2K problems stem from the fact that many computer systems in use today will encounter difficulties in processing the date changeover from 1999 to 2000 because they were programmed to read only the last two digits of a year.

The glitch may cause computers to malfunction or shut down.

The U.S.-based Y2K-compliance monitoring body Gartner Group said in a recent report that Indonesia was among some 30 developing nations which have the highest risk of Y2K problems. The body said some 66 percent of businesses could possibly be affected.

Some commercial and noncommercial institutions, including air transportation providers, worldwide using computers and information technology systems have considered putting their activities on hold, at best, or at worst putting themselves out of business, during the date rollover to Jan. 1, 2000. The organizations say that such drastic steps are necessary unless they manage to solve the so-called millennium bug, or damage caused by noncompliance of computers and microprocessors in embedded electronic systems to the Y2K.

In regard to the safety of aircraft, Capt. Bambang Sugiri of Merpati's Y2K anticipation program team said the Y2K problems would not have a direct effect on the aircraft.

"It is because almost all of the avionic devices, including the counter panels for altitude and longitude, timer and counting systems, were not affected by Y2K since they work individually and do not depend on computer or information technology systems like those in use in the office management system," he said.

He said the Y2K anticipation program on aircraft was less painstaking because it was conducted in cooperation with aircraft producers and vendors.


Bambang also said that Merpati had fixed its administration and management system, including the reservation system, customers and employees data, payroll data, financial data and building safety management system.

He said the company had allocated about Rp 1.5 billion (US$2 million) -- about Rp 500 million of which was spent on upgrading of the airline's computer system -- to anticipate the Y2K problems.

He said Merpati had cooperated with related partners -- state- run airline Garuda Indonesia Airways and the state-run airport management firms Angkasa Pura I and II -- to synchronize the Y2K anticipation program.

Bambang also said that to ensure safety and avoid any possible mode failures during the New Year's Eve flights, Merpati would operate manual procedures for its flights and administration systems.

"It is a policy of the International Civil Aviation Association that starting Dec. 31 at 9 p.m. all regional airlines must operate with manual procedures. The instruction will be lifted when the association finds it safe to return to full automatic procedures," he added.