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July 26, 2008

Indonesia President won’t visit EU until flight ban ends
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has decided not to visit Europe until the European Union lifts a flight ban sanctioned against Indonesian airlines including national carrier Garuda Indonesia, reported national news agency Antara.

"The President will only visit European Union states on board Garuda Indonesia," the agency quoted Transportation Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal as saying.

Yudhoyono planned to visit Europe before the fuel prices hike in May. But the plan is still pending and has yet to be rescheduled. Although the government was disappointed, Djusman said the president had ordered to continue efforts to improve flight safety and security.

Djusman also said that the reason for EU to continue ban for Garuda was non-technical although EU said it was technical.

Meanwhile, AFP quoted an Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman as saying Friday that the EU’s flight ban on all Indonesian airlines for safety reasons could be politically motivated.

The European Commission and the EU's Air Safety Committee on Thursday unanimously rejected a request by Indonesian airlines to be taken off the region's blacklist of unsafe airlines.

"The way we see it, the EU always puts their actions (in terms of) technicality issues. But we question if there are political motivations behind the decision," ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP.

The EU found three key airlines that had applied for a "fast track" lift of the ban, including flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia, could not be confirmed as safe enough for European skies, despite concerted efforts to improve safety.

In maintaining the ban on all 51 Indonesian airlines, the EU said Indonesia had not introduced an efficient safety oversight regime and that safety gains had not yet been assessed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation.

Indonesia had been hoping to have the bans lifted on at least four airlines by the end of July.

"We are disappointed with the prolonging of the ban," Faizasyah said. "We've done some improvements so we do hope that those actions taken could be considered."

The ban was imposed on Indonesian airlines last year after a string of deadly crashes in the archipelago, which is heavily reliant on air links. An Adam Air plane crashed into the sea off Indonesia's Sulawesi island in January 2007 due to pilot error, killing everyone on board. Two months later, a Garuda jet burst into flames on landing in Central Java, killing 21 people.

The pilot of that plane was charged with negligence and "deliberately" causing damage to the aircraft in court on Thursday, and could face up to life in prison.

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