Allow me to express my disbelief and disgust at Roy Morgan announcing that Garuda Indonesia, the national carrier, has been recognised as ‘Best International Airline for January 2012’ according to a recent independent survey of major airlines across the world.

Garuda killed one of my colleagues, Morgan Mellish, the Jakarta correspondent of the Australian Financial Review, on 7 March 2007, when he was burned alive inside one of its Boeing 737s in a crash at Yogyakarta, one of five Australians to die at the hand of an incompetent and negligent pilot whose presence at the controls reflects on the pathetic flight safety standards of the carrier at the time.

The other Australians who died were the diplomat Liz O’Neill, an AusAid official, Allison Sudrajat, and Australian Federal Police officers Mark Scott and Brice Steele.

A Sydney Morning Herald journalist Cynthia Banham was badly injured in the crash. Another 16 people, including one crew member, perished in the disaster.

The evidence presented at the trial and conviction on manslaughter charges of the captain, Marwoto Komar, in 2009, heard that he ignored 15 audible cockpit alarms before touching down on the runway at twice the normal speed without the wings having even been configured for a landing.

His ignored pleas from his co-pilot to go around. He was sentenced to two years jail early that year but his conviction was later quashed by a superior court.

This is the press release issued by Roy Morgan.

(Sydney, 07 March 2012): Garuda Indonesia, Indonesia’s national carrier, has been recognised as ‘Best International Airline for January 2012’ according to a recent independent survey of major airlines across the world.

The Customer Satisfaction survey conducted by research company Roy Morgan, ranked Garuda Indonesia ahead of other leading airlines such as Singapore Airlines, Emirates and Air New Zealand with a monthly satisfaction score of 91 per cent. A total of 3943 respondents were surveyed on how satisfied they were with the airline they used between February 2011 and January 2012.

Bagus Y. Siregar, Senior General Manager Australia/SWP Garuda Indonesia commented: “We are thrilled to receive this award, as it endorses Garuda Indonesia’s transformation and progress towards becoming one of Asia’s leading airlines. This valuable recognition by our Australian customers motivates us even further to deliver the highest standards of service on the ground and in the air.”

The Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Award comes after a string of accolades, including the four-star rating by Skytrax, the global benchmark for airline service standards in 2009. Garuda Indonesia was also named the ‘World’s Most Improved Airline’ at the Skytrax World Airline Awards in Hamburg, and Asia’s leading service quality airline by the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) in 2010.

All awards recognise the success of Garuda Indonesia’s Qantum Leap program which includes the revitalisation of its existing fleet and the introduction of The Garuda Indonesia Experience, the carrier’s service concept that offers a uniquely Indonesian level of service on the ground and inflight. Garuda Indonesia will continue to invest in enhancing its service offerings in order to become a five star carrier by 2015.

Whatever Garuda may have done to the interior of its jets and the standards of cabin service that it delivers, it takes a long time to expunge the memory of the many slaughters of passengers conducted by this airline in its bloody, and nasty factual history, and they cannot for this writer be erased by claimed awards for excellence, nor completely exonerated by the poor state of safety regulation, air navigation infrastructure and other excuses offered in mitigation down the years.

Allowing someone as comprehensively unfit to fly as Komar was to be in command of a passenger flight had nothing to do with bad luck or bad weather. It was a gross failure of standards on the part of the airline.

It is true that Garuda has invested in flight standards as well as cabin standards since that dreadful accident, and that is acknowledged and welcomed. But this is far short of the time when the sorrow and hurt of its past misdeeds will have been forgotten and forgiven. Far, far too short a time.

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