Is it Safe to Travel via Air Asia?

The world can finally be your oyster – all you really need is a respectable air carrier that you can count on to assist you in covering great distances with as little hassle and as much safety as possible.

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Unfortunate series of events led to Air Asia taking a major hit to their respectability and the trust that they’ve been working really hard to earn. Concerns were often raised over frequent engine failures and human errors that led to multiple returns to the airport, slidings past the airstrips and near-collisions. Is it safe to travel via Air Asia? This is a question that has been raised quite often in the past decade, commonly fuelled by one mistake after another, never letting the case rest.

Red AirAsia Plane on a Runway at Sunset

However, a lot has changed in the past decade, with constant improvements on Malaysian air company’s end with the hopes of restoring the faith that was lost in them due to all the hiccups and even one grim tragedy. So let’s get to the question at hand with a more up-to-date overview that doesn’t shy away from the truth, no matter what it is.

Is Air Asia Safe?

There are a couple of things to be moved out of the way before proceeding with a conversation about safety and quality of Air Asia.

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More than a single misconception bar people from having an objective conversation about the reliability of Air Asia and its massive fleet of 251 planes, including those belonging to affiliate companies. This last bit is exactly where all the fuss is coming from.

History of Air Asia

Originally a Malaysian air company, Air Asia expanded its operations by adding subsidiaries to its mighty aircraft fleet. Based in Kuala Lumpur, it is the single largest air company in the country, operating from Kuala Lumpur International Airport as its main hub. Over the years, several other airlines were integrated into Air Asia, namely AirAsia India, Indonesia AirAsia, Phillippines AirAsia and Thai AirAsia, with their own hubs where they operate from. Besides these companies, its sister, AirAsia X is the one solely focused on long-haul flights. Oftentimes when people look at the history of the company, they tend to merge these individual parts into one great whole, which is not accurate. The reason for this faultiness is that Air Asia doesn’t make all the decisions for each one of these companies.

Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia

Another important matter that people often find disturbing for reasons that aren’t good enough is the fact that Air Asia is a low-cost company. Despite the term sounding vaguely dangerous, low-cost airlines don’t use wooden aeroplanes or try to water down their fuel reserves.

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Travelling this way is not less safe by any standard. All it means is that the company will sell tickets at lower prices while trying to make up for the money lost by charging some extraneous fees at other times. Just look at Singapore Airlines. They’ve won numerous award as on the best low-cost carriers in the world, with one accident that included fatalities when the pilots tried to take off from the wrong runway. So, being a low-cost company means very little to passengers, as they’ll more often than have a safe, comfortable plane ride while saving some of that tight budget and spending it where they want.

Air Asia Crash Record

In the entire history of AirAsia, there has been only a single instance of unspeakable tragedy. Unfortunately, a lot of people lost their lives in a failure that will propel the company and its subsidiaries to rethink a lot of company policies in the future.

Flight QZ8501

For a long time, the awful tragedy of Flight QZ8501 has floated above the entirety of the company, reminding everyone of 162 people that died on that horrid day.  The aeroplane crashed into the Java Sea on December 28 2014, a nightmare that came as a result of both human mistake and faulty rudder travel limiter. It’s a day that will haunt many lives and families for an untold amount of time.

A long investigation has shed more light on this tragedy after almost an entire year of learning more about what has happened. December 1 in 2015 was the day when a company finally released more information after it had gotten a better look into what had happened. Two of the plane’s rudder travel limiter units ceased to operate, sending four warnings to the plane’s electronic centralised aircraft monitor. After the fourth warning, the pilot decided that he was going to reset the circuit breaker on the system, taking out most of the flight control systems.

Two major issues have contributed to the fall of the plane, the first one being a faulty electronic system that wasn’t meticulously examined even though the rudder failed 23 times in the past year. It would just be reset each time it happened, without any consideration for the underlying problem. The second of the two major issues was the pilot resetting the circuit breaker that mustn’t be reset during flight, causing most of their controls to give out. The combination of these two ghastly errors culminated in aerodynamic stalling, causing the plane to start losing altitude. To make matters worse, there was an apparent miscommunication among the pilot and his co-pilot, resulting in their final, separate save attempts cancelling each other out and the plane crashing.

You can read here the Aircraft Accident Investigation Final Report.

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An AirAsia Aeroplane Taking Off the Runway

In the aftermath of this horrendous tragedy, Air Asia strengthened its pilot training efforts, with a special focus on dealing with intricate weather conditions and faulty mechanisms.

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But as far as the responsibility goes, we couldn’t say that it all lies with Air Asia. The original, Malaysian Air Asia. Indonesia AirAsia owns 51% of the company, while 49% belongs to Air Asia, a consequence of Indonesian laws that prohibit a foreign company from owning the majority of stakes in their domestic businesses. While the main company does have a large stake in the burden of the tragic accident, more of it falls on the shoulders of Indonesia’s at that time insufficient systems. This was the single, most tragic event that occurred in relation to the Air Asia family, but there were other concerning mishaps that need to be addressed.

Runway Overruns

Of all the possible accidents that can take place on an active runway, runway overruns happen most often and with most devastating results.

There are plenty of reasons why overruns, or ‘runway excursions’ as they’re otherwise known, happen. During taking off or landing, there are several factors that increase the odds of an overrun taking place and it can end badly. In numerous occasions throughout the history of aeroplanes, aircraft would veer off of the runway and collide with objects or other aircraft, resulting in deaths of many passengers.

In its long history, Air Asia had two occurrences of runway overruns, one in 2004, which also happened to be the first mishap in the company’s records, and another in 2011. Officially, both accidents occurred under weather conditions such as heavy raining or nightfall. Also, both of these events underlined the importance of improved weather condition tracking and better pilot training to deal with these special circumstances.

Luckily for all parties involved, there were no deaths and only one young passenger sprained her wrist (while being rescued of all things).

AirAsia Plane with a Mobile App Ad

Engine Failures

More recently, engine failures and emergency landings have dragged the reputation of Air Asia through the mud even more than the tragedy of flight QZ8501.

You could say that 2017 was a difficult year for the company, having their engines blown three times in one year! The first engine snag was caused by an explosion in the left turbine, prompting the pilots to perform an emergency landing in Perth, Australia. The other two engine failures were blamed on the birds no less. While it’s highly likely to have a bird collision happening on lower altitudes, it would still require quite a large avian creature to be able to damage the turbine blades. It begs the question of what it was that Air Asia planes hit that caused major damage to the turbines and subsequently engines.

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All in all, Air Asia’s crash record is not as extensive as some of the others, but there were enough accidents to propel the Malaysian company into increasing its standards tenfold. They will have to be increased further and continuously, lest the company find itself another shameful entry in the history of accidents.

Air Asia Safety Record

Following the tragedy, Air Asia earned dismal ratings from neutral observers in countries which they were servicing, sparking the need for a change.

Obviously, improvements were needed in all areas across the entirety of Air Asia Group, especially Indonesia AirAsia. In order for them to attain objectively provided accreditation, they decided to go with an international system of evaluation.

Before we start tossing around acronyms such as IOSA and IATA, we’ll go ahead and explain only briefly what they are and what sort of value, or jurisdiction, their interference provides to flying commercially. International Air Transport Association or IATA is an upholder of standards and policies in the air travel industry, headquartered in Canada. They’re the ones conducting IATA Operational Safety Audit (IOSA), checking air carriers and inspecting their operations across eight broad categories. These operations include ground handling operations, cargo operations, aircraft engineering and maintenance, operational control and flight dispatch, security management, organization and management system, cabin operations and flight operations. With 1066 parameters to check overall, IOSA goes in-depth with their analysis of each air company’s ability to conduct their business successfully and safely for all people involved. This audit is only alive for two years, after which period they recheck all of the parameters again in order to extend it. All IATA members have to undergo the audit which quadruples their safety ratings in comparison to those few companies that still refuse to partake in the organisation.

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A Wing of a Flying Aeroplane During Sunset

After the flight QZ8501 disaster, AirlineRatings, an Australian website for, well, airline ratings, gave the Malaysian AirAsia only three stars out of possible seven. To give you a bit of context of how low that rating is, Malaysian Airlines got five stars out of seven after two catastrophes – the disappearance of flight MH370 and the shooting down of MH17 during the conflict in Ukraine.

Indonesia AirAsia and Philippines AirAsia got two and three stars respectively.

Having such a lowly safety record, Air Asia had decided to go on an offensive and get the mother company and all of its subsidiaries enrolled in IATA.

Today, all companies of the AirAsia Group maintain their IOSA regularly, including the AirAsia X which was also the only company in the family to have passed IOSA before. This, in itself, speaks volumes about the increased safety of Air Asia and its subsidiaries. It also sends a powerful message to its passengers about their willingness to comply with international standards in order to maximise the safety of all people involved. Such dedication is praiseworthy and commendable, which is why the company’s grown to one of the best low-cost carriers in the region. It hasn’t really been a long time since Malaysian AirAsia received only three stars from AirlineRatings, and they already have seven out of seven now. Such rapid advancement in ranks is truly a hallmark of great perseverance and effort so that they can provide their customers with true quality.

Aeroplanes Flying Low over a City Below

But in order for you to get a better picture of what it means to have seven stars from AirlineRatings, you need to be familiarized with their rating mechanism. They include seven tests, each one checking for compliance with global standards before the star is given. Their safety rating criteria checks for IOSA certification, EU blacklist (airlines banned from operating in Europe due to low standards), fatality-free record in the last 10 years (this is why Indonesia AirAsia can only have 6 stars), FAA blacklist (American Federal Aviation Authority bans countries based on safety risks), meeting of ICAO safety parameters, grounding by the country’s governing aviation safety authority and if the company uses solely aircraft of Soviet production.

The current ratings of the AirAsia Group are as follows:

  • AirAsia India: 4/7
  • AirAsia Indonesia: 6/7
  • AirAsia Malaysia: 7/7
  • AirAsia Philippines: 7/7
  • AirAsia Thailand: 2/7

AirAsia Malaysia has finally earned the rightfully deserved seven stars. Only two companies in the family are still not rated very good, but they’re getting there. Thai AirAsia received their IOSA certification, and they’re slowly going to start improving in the following years. Not only that, but the fleet of AirAsia lines is slowly expanding to welcome some of the highest-quality planes on the market.

What all of this information means is that Air Asia has pushed through and became a pioneer in safety, with the best price-value ration of all low-cost carriers. The future of the company and its passengers is certainly very bright.

Plane Flying Overhead in Clear Blue Sky

Are Air Asia Flights Safe?

To put it quite simply and clearly – yes they are safe.

Air Asia is obviously a company that has invested heavily in making sure that mistakes from the past don’t happen to them or their passengers ever again. What they’ve lacked in the past and what was initially the source of all the grief they’ve received has been mended. One of the most influential moments on their path to improvement has been their acceptance of becoming an IATA member and partaking in their global safety management system.

Its fairly recent appearance on the Forbes list of the best airlines as one of the best low-cost carriers has also done wonders for its image and future in air transport. It’s quite understandable that there are still people who aren’t going to look kindly on Air Asia and avoid their company. But this time, Air Asia will be able to prove their worth with top-notch quality among the low-costers and disprove unsubstantiated claims against them. Today, they can hold their own against some of the safest airlines in the industry.

Traveling by AirAsia is safe and will enable you to move around their designated corner of the world cheaply, leaving plenty of money to be spent on whatever you like. Hopefully, after reading this airline review you won’t have any doubt in your mind about the company’s quality and commitment to improving on some of the mistakes of the past. Now, they’re taking travellers to 165 destinations in 25 countries, which is a serious increase in traffic and a great boost to their reputation. The following years are most likely going to bring nothing but success to the company and its loyal passengers.