AEROPLANES fall out of the sky sometimes, but given the number flying each minute of the day, these are rare accidents.
Nevertheless, it should not be allowed to happen. When a Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) aircraft crashes, it is inescapably a very big deal because of the casualties and fatalities.
Its significance, too, lay on how closely this reflects the RMAF’s state of readiness to defend the country in the event of a foreign invasion or assist in civil defence needs in emergencies, like the annual floods on the peninsula east coast.
Therefore, when the Beechcraft King Air BT200T turboprop crashed recently while landing in Butterworth, questions must be asked.
The accident took the life of the pilot and left three others injured.
RMAF is now short of one very experienced pilot. Replacing the late Major C. Kayamboo will take some time.
To the RMAF, the first casualty then is to its super-skilled manpower — minus 1 — and skills like this do not grow on trees.
Far too often though, the first thought is on the hardware; if prior to the accident the RMAF has four Beechcraft aircraft, there are now three.
Indeed, it is just one too many to lose given the ratio of need to aeroplanes; the Beechcraft King Air BT200T patrols the vast South China Sea.
Now, the three remaining are grounded for an audit inspection.
The defence minister, however, has assured that this is not a problem.
Unfortunately, this year alone witnessed three previous RMAF crashes: one in February, involving a CN235, which fell on the coast near Kuala Selangor; another in May, when an Aermacchi MB339CM aircraft fell into padi fields in Pahang; and, in November, a Nuri helicopter came down on the roof of an Integrated Living Skills centre in Tawau, Sabah.
Thankfully, there were no fatalities, although 14 soldiers in all were injured. Losing four birds a year, however, is too much. Wherein lies the problem? Is it because the aircraft are old, worn out or vintage, hence, unreliable?
Of course, this when compared to the flights taking off daily is small, inferring that for the most part, there is efficient maintenance, or most of these steel birds would already be grounded.
But, that is no reason to not react with urgency when a crash occurs. If, after investigation, it is revealed that there has been maintenance error, then it must be immediately rectified.
Regular inspections and audits on safety standards should be carried out on all military aircraft, especially those for training. The priority is safety at all costs. Because, what is horrifying is the possibility of sabotage. Irrespective of war or peace, a country is not allowed the pleasure of sleeping on the job.
The example of Butterworth’s slow reaction to radar signals when Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 overflew the isthmus, and then disappeared, shows how important it is for the armed forces to always be on the ball.
What if it had been an enemy aircraft? Maintenance of aircraft is paramount if the RMAF is to be 24/7 ready. How often has a full audit been done on military aircraft?
Hopefully, it is not after every crash as with the remaining Beechcraft aeroplanes.