Down2Earth - It seems not everyone can fly

THE suspension of operations of the country's first "syariah compliant" airline Rayani Air on April 9 did not come as a surprise.

From the get go, the beleaguered airline which was launched twice – as a low-cost carrier in January 2015 and again in December that same year as a full service Islamic carrier – had been facing operational issues that saw flight cancellations, stranded passengers and even a damaged aircraft that led to a pilot strike.

Yet despite a telling off from the transport minister and parliamentarians and an onslaught of hate mail via social media, Rayani stubbornly continued to take to the skies instead of grounding its flights to sort out its issues. Not a very responsible omission especially factoring in safety and security issues.

It was the refusal of its eight pilots to fly the two aircraft in its fleet that finally grounded the airline – that begs the question: would the airline continue operating if not for the pilot strike?

Rayani had put on the Islamic banner with its Islamic branding hoping to tap the surge in demand for syariah-compliant products and services.

Nothing wrong with that but it is a misrepresentation of Islam and syariah if the operators think serving halal cuisine and requiring female crew to wear scarves are all it takes to be syariah compliant.

While its funding may be halal, was the source syariah-compliant? Are its contractors and vendors also syariah-compliant or abide by syariah requirements?

Syariah-compliant includes ensuring the safety and comfort of your passengers, ensuring they are not short-changed through delays and a complicated refund process.

Syariah-compliant also means you don't break the law by using a security loophole and issuing hand-written boarding passes.

It also means adopting a sustainable business plan which will help ensure job security of its staff and the well-being of their families with regular scheduled salaries and not driving your pilots to strike because they feel their planes are unsafe.

However it is not fair to keep bashing Rayani Air and its owners and management. Perhaps they genuinely felt they could pull it off. The Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) should be queried as to why it felt the airline was ready to be issued with an air service licence and an air operator certificate.

Why did DCA director-general Datuk Seri Azharuddin Abdul Rahman and his officers feel that Rayani could fulfil its obligations with just two ageing Boeing 737-400s plying six routes?

After two deadly incidents involving our national carrier, one would assume that throwing caution to the wind is not an option and those responsible for aviation safety would impose stricter requirements on those with ambitions. The DCA should be the first to acknowledge and propagate that not everyone can fly.

However it seems to be business as usual at 27, Persiaran Perdana Putrajaya.

With the setting up of the Aviation Commission on March 1, one expected a more autonomous and efficient regulatory body but that it is supervised by the Prime Minister's Office and with no accountability to Parliament as one would expect of a commission, goes to question the effectiveness and even the need for the commission.

Is the establishment of the commission a hint that the DCA is not doing its job?

Is RM90 million in taxpayers' money going to the set-up of the commission a sound investment that incidents such as the missing flight MH370; the Malaysia Airlines saga and the Rayani Air episode will not be repeated?

Only time will tell. But aviation is one area where we cannot afford to make mistakes.

Malaysians have suffered and lost too much and for too long for any more of such shenanigans.

Terence's preference is still to fly local but is often tempted by the allure of the safety protocols in some foreign airlines. Feedback: letters@thesundaily.com