Budget carriers' close monitoring stressed
Southeast Asia's major budget airlines have a good record but smaller carriers must be closely monitored to ensure they do not skimp on safety, industry observers said.
The region's low-cost sector has boomed since the birth of Malaysian-based AirAsia almost six years ago spawned a host of imitators -- including a Thai budget carrier which crashed Sunday, killing 89 people.
Thailand's One-Two-Go, whose plane went down on the resort island of Phuket, is one of about 25 low-cost carriers which analysts estimate are flying in the region. Most of them are in Indonesia.
Tom Ballantyne, chief correspondent for the industry publication Orient Aviation, said a distinction should be made between major budget operators, and the smaller airlines.
In addition to AirAsia, Southeast Asia's largest low-cost carrier, major players in the sector include Tiger Airways and Jetstar.
Tiger is 49 percent owned by Singapore Airlines, while Jetstar is an offshoot of Australian flag carrier Qantas, and Thailand's Nok Air took off three years ago, partly owned by Thai Airways International.
"There's not much of a concern about safety with these carriers because they're linked to the big carriers or part-owned by them," said Ballantyne.
Shukor Yusof, an aviation analyst with Standard and Poor's Equity Research, said low-cost has not meant lower safety standards.
"Absolutely not," he said. "By and large, low-cost has been very safe, with the exception of Indonesia."
Yusof noted that the major budget carriers are using very new aircraft, flown by well-trained pilots.
AirAsia has a fleet of 50 aircraft and has 150 Airbus A320-200s on order, to meet what it said is rising passenger demand.
Ballantyne said concern lies with small budget carriers using older and leased equipment.