Asia's aviation market is booming, with passenger counts jumping more than 200% over the last 10 years in India and Indonesia and 300% in China. Perhaps passengers are encouraged by the low number of incidents among Asian airlines, but all is not what it seems: A Wall Street Journal investigation of flight data from the International Civil Aviation Organization suggests minor and serious incidents are going unreported in Asia, meaning airlines and regulators can't learn from blunders. Take Indonesia and Australia, for example, each home to 3 million commercial flights over the last five years. During that time, Indonesia had 28 major accidents, including fatal crashes or severe damage to planes, while Australia had five. But in terms of less-obvious incidents that threatened life or limb, Indonesia reported 13, while Australia reported 58. For less-serious incidents that are optional to report, like engine failure or smoke in the cockpit, Indonesia recorded five, compared to Australia's 74.
What gives? Well, a 2012 report found several close calls in Indonesia simply weren't reported to the ICAO. In one case, a passing jet engine caused a staircase to blow off a plane as passengers were ready to disembark. While other markets require near misses in the air to be reported, Indonesia's air traffic control authority says only some of its near misses are relayed. Overall, Asia had 84 minor incidents over five years, while Europe had 356 and North America had 145. When it came to deadly crashes, Asia had 31, compared with 12 in Europe and six in North America. The Journal suggests Asian aviation officials fear punishment if they report an incident; pilots involved in crashes, for example, have been thrown in jail. The US' confidential incident reporting system, which guarantees non-negligent employees won't be penalized by the FAA if they report incidents within 10 days, solves that issue. Though some Asian countries have adopted similar systems, few protect workers from fines or jail. (Read more airline industry stories.)