Over the last decade, the aviation industry in Asia has seen a huge explosion in growth. With dozens of new airline companies cropping up and passenger volume well above that of Europe or North America, Asia has concretely become the fastest-growing and most competitive air travel market in the world. The Asia-Pacific region is responsible for 1.1 billion people flying each year, and that number is projected to skyrocket over the next two decades.
But after years of incredible growth, Asia’s aviation industry is feeling a notable strain. Officials are no closer to finding an answer a year after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which is only one of five fatal plane crashes from Asian airlines in the last 12 months. These accidents have highlighted a number of problems with regulatory oversight and safety, a problem which has put potential flyers on edge.
Airplane disasters in Asia are not the only concern. A recent theme of pilot shortages is potentially putting passengers at risk as under-trained pilots take to the skies to handle the recent growth spurt. Meanwhile, deficiencies in airport infrastructure and air traffic control systems were responsible for 27% of airplane accidents from 2008-2012 in the Asia-Pacific region.
Of course, the primary worry is that infrastructure and regulations simply cannot keep up with the incredible growth rate Asian airlines have experienced over the last decade. The AirAsia flight famous for its crash in December wasn’t even authorized by authorities, which critics point to as a distinct laxness in oversight.
Even the IATA director general and former Cathay Pacific Airways CEO Tony Tyler agrees. “There is a safety problem here [that] is not going to solve itself,” Tyler said in a speech to Indonesian aviation officials last month.
Meanwhile, the airline industry has given significant pushback, arguing that the 12 airline disasters in 2014 is far below the five-year average of 19. This is true, but it’s hard to explain that to the families of the 939 people killed in those airplane disasters (actually up compared to the 210 the previous year).
Miscommunications also appear to be a big contributor to the disasters.The massive surge in Asian airplane traffic will only continue to rise over the next several years, so communications need to improve quickly. Airlines currently sit at a critical turning point where they must determine the most effective use of their resources to ensure safety standards and improve infrastructure.