July 29, 2014 08:00
Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou has asked his cabinet to strengthen commercial flight safety after a twin-engine prop jet crashed last Wednesday near the main airport in the outlying Penghu islands, killing 48 people. It was Taiwan's worst aviation disaster in a decade.
The plane, operated by Taiwan-based TransAsia Airways, crashed and caught fire on its second attempt to land. Ten people survived with injuries.
Lin Chun-liang, leader of the Civil Aeronautics Administration's air safety standards group, said he expected a tightening of at least four existing rules to answer the president's demands. The measures would address extended airport closures during stormy weather, pilot skills, aircraft age and runway visibility.
Lin said one measure would be to close airports more often than normal internationally because of typhoons and thunderstorms.
Officials from the 63-year-old TransAsia Airways believe weather caused the crash just after dark on Wednesday. About 200 flights had been cancelled that day because of Typhoon Matmo as it crossed over Taiwan, but as the storm moved on to China other flights had been able to operate.
The aviation authority has not determined a cause for the crash. Its investigation is likely to concentrate on a four-minute span between the pilot's request for landing clearance and the aircraft's crash, the Associated Press reported. In that period, visibility declined by half. The plane went down in a narrow alley between rows of old houses near the airport.
Lin said requirements for pilot skills may be tightened, along with rules on the use of older aircraft. The TransAsia plane was about 14 years old, within today's legal limit. Lin added that runways in places such as the two at Penghu's main airport may be too hard for pilots to see when weather reduces visibility. The runways may be redesigned to meet international standards.
Taiwan averaged 1,238 flights per day in the first half of the year. Its last deadly commercial airline accident took place in 2002, when a China Airlines plane exploded shortly after takeoff, killing 225 people.
Lin said he expected the new standards easily would gain support from Taiwan's seven commercial airlines and other government departments. They could take effect within a week.
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