Last Saturday, a Singapore Airlines (SIA) Airbus A310 skidded while landing in bad weather and overshot the runway at the Kuching International Airport but fortunately none of the 142 passengers and 12 crew was hurt in the incident.
The incident led the Malaysia Airlines chief pilot for safety and security Capt Suhaimi Saman to go public about the Kuching Airport being one of the "trickiest" airports for pilots landing in the country because of the absence of navigational aids to assist landing and unpredictable weather conditions.
Suhaimi revealed that pilots had lodged several complaints with the Department of Civil Aviation over the past one year on the absence of navigational aids since the old instrument landing system (ILS) at the airport was decommissioned in January last year.
With the short runway at Kuching, a precision landing by a wide-bodied aircraft could be executed, most times, only with the assistance of the ILS. If the landing is not precise, the aircraft could overshoot the runway.
Kuching International Airport has two adjacent runways with landing distances of 2,363 metres and 2,454 metres.
The absence of navigational aids was believed to be part of the cause for an incident last year when a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737's wingtip scraped the runway during landing.
As a result of the absence of navigational aids at the Kuching Airport, there had been an increase in the number of aircraft diversions to alternate airports over the past several months because of the poor weather.
The DCA only began calibration tests yesterday to ensure the effectiveness of the new Instrument Landing System at the Kuching International Airport, using a Learjet 60 with two pilots at the controls and two officers from the DCA on board.
The RM3.6 million ILS was installed at the airport on Dec 6 last year but could not be tested due to bad weather conditions.
A responsible and "hands-on, minds-on" Transport Minister, fully conscious of the need to maintain the highest standards of safety for civil aviation which could allow for no margin of error, will never allow such a gross dereliction of duty to last for one whole year, trifling with the lives of users of the Kuching Airport.
Transport Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik should be reminded of the recent spate of air disasters, the latest being the Kenya Airways jet crash into the sea off the Ivory Coast carrying 179 people and the Alaska Airlines crash into the Pacific Ocean in California with 88 people on board, both happening only a few days ago.
It would appear that Malaysia has a Transport Minister who, after 14 years in the post, has become numbed and indifferent to disasters and human tragedies. This is not good for Malaysians.
Liong Sik had been Transport Minister for too long and has outlived his usefulness. The time has come for the country to have a new Transport Minister with a fresh mind, new ideas and the verve to resolve the multitude of problems in the transport sector, whether land, air or sea, which had accummulated and compounded after 14 years of malign indifference by Liong Sik.