The Safety Record Of AirAsia Was Pristine Until Flight QZ8501 Went Missing

Until one of its planes disappeared over the Java Sea between Indonesia and Singapore Sunday, the safety record of AirAsia and the Airbus A320, the model of jet that went missing, was something near pristine. As The Wall Street Journal reported early Sunday, until Flight QZ8501 went missing, AirAsia had been one of the great successes of budget travel, running a popular low-cost travel service without compromising on safety. There are a number of Asian airlines banned in Europe and elsewhere for their poor safety records, but not only is AirAsia not one of them, it's never once had a fatal accident.

Back in 2001, AirAsia was a stuttering airline when it was bought by businessman Tony Fernandes, who now operates as the chief executive of the airline. Fernandes turned Air Asia into a safety-conscious, low-cost alternative to other Asian airlines, which too often were either high-risk or far more expensive. In 2007, The New York Times described AirAsia as a "pioneer" in the arena of budget airlines.

Like the other Malaysia-operated flight that disappeared this year — Flight 370, which went missing in March over the Southern Indian Ocean and has never been found — it could take months before anything is conclusively known about what happened to . Much depends on the plane's "black box," which emits "pings" that are crucial to discovering what went wrong. Nine months later, however, Australia and other countries hunting for Flight 370 haven't found any debris or, in fact, any indication of what happened to the plane — although authorities have shared their prevailing theory, which is that Flight 370 went down in a desolate part of the Southern Indian Ocean.

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As for the jet that went missing, the Airbus A320, it's a long-running make of jet that has a superior safety record and is used by a handful of major international airlines. AirAsia Indonesia exclusively uses A320s, and Airbus said in a statement that the plane in question had "accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights."

Though the make of jet — the Airbus 320 "family" — has been involved in a handful of accidents since it was first launched in the 80s, there hasn't been a crash in six years and the model is generally regarded as very safe. In a statement, Airbus said:

Airbus regrets to confirm that an A320-200 operated by AirAsia Indonesia lost contact with air traffic control this morning, 28th December 2014. The aircraft was operating a scheduled service, Flight QZ 8501, from Surabaya to Singapore.
The aircraft involved is MSN (Manufacturer Serial Number) 3648, registered as PK-AXC and was delivered to AirAsia from the production line in October 2008. Powered by CFM 56-5B engines, the aircraft had accumulated approximately 23,000 flight hours in some 13,600 flights. At this time no further factual information is available.
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Both the airline and the jet used are traditionally risk-free, but investigators will be initially inclined to view QZ8501 as an accident — possibly due in part to the bad weather that caused the pilots to request a change in flight plan before losing contact with ground control.

President Obama has been briefed about the situation, the White House said, and U.S. investigators will continue to monitor the situation. For now, the search-and-rescue effort has been postponed until morning due to poor visibility.

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