Singapore aims to be leader in air, sea incident probes

Karamjit Kaur, Straits Times AsiaOne 18 Jan 17;

Singapore is beefing up its capabilities to investigate air and maritime accidents that happen globally.

On the air side, the aim is to be not just an aviation hub for commercial flights but also the centre for industry training and expertise in areas like air traffic management and air incident investigations.

From a two-man team in 2002, the Transport Safety Investigation Bureau (TSIB) now has 16 staff, including a pilot and several engineers.

There are also 20 volunteers, including officers from the Republic of Singapore Air Force, who can be activated when necessary.

The TSIB, a unit under the Ministry of Transport, was launched in August last year after a restructuring.

From just focusing on air accidents, its new mandate includes investigating marine incidents.

Before the change, it was called the Air Accident Investigation Bureau.

Over the years, the bureau has also built up its expertise and knowledge.

The capability was further strengthened last year with the opening of a new laboratory at TSIB's Changi Airport office, which The Straits Times visited last week.

While, previously, the team could work only with black boxes that were still intact, it now has equipment to also analyse damaged boxes, for example if they have been submerged underwater.

Black boxes are flight data recorders which contain cockpit voice recordings and other information critical for investigations.

So far, the TSIB has been involved in not just incidents involving Singapore carriers but also assisted in other investigations.

For example, the team was involved in the probe into the crash of an AirAsia Indonesia plane in December 2014 while flying from Surabaya to Singapore and the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370 in March the same year.

Compared with established entities like the National Transportation Safety Board in the United States, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the Singapore bureau may still be considered to be in its infancy stage.

However, within the region and, in particular, South-east Asia, the TSIB is ahead of many of its counterparts.

TSIB's deputy director (air safety investigation) Michael Alan Toft said: "I think we have positioned ourselves well and from feedback that we have received from the International Civil Aviation Organisation (a United Nations arm which oversees global commercial aviation), I think they see us as being quite progressive within the region."

As the number of flights continues to grow in the Asia-Pacific and globally, and ship movements continue to increase, ensuring safe practices and processes is critical, experts said.

This is a key role that the TSIB plays, said Captain Kunal Nakra, the authority's deputy director (marine safety investigation).

While the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore and Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore ensure that rules and regulations are adhered to, the TSIB is tasked to go further and dip deeper, he said.

"We ask all the 'whys'. So if a ship catches fire, why did the fire occur? Did the crew fight the fire as they were supposed to? If not, there is a lapse there. Why? Maybe there is an issue with the training. So we strip it down to those levels," he said.

Mr Toft added: "We don't just stop at the sharp end of the stick."

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