IMAGE: HAZE AT MALAYSIA AIRPORT
Vincent Thian  /  AP
Haze covered the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang, Malaysia, on Wednesday.
updated 10/4/2006 4:00:02 PM ET 2006-10-04T20:00:02

Indonesia on Wednesday urged airports in areas shrouded by thick smoke from forest fires caused by deforestation to close if conditions made landings’ hazardous, after a jet with more than 100 on board skidded off a runway in Borneo.

The passenger jet operated by Mandala Airlines skidded off the runway upon landing amid thick haze in Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province on Tuesday as fires spread choking haze to neighboring Brunei, Malaysia and Singapore.

“We recommend that authorities determine minimal visibility standards in airports. If visibility is below the standards, an airport should be closed temporarily,” said Setyo Raharjo, the chairman of the National Commission for Transport Safety.

The current regulations allowed a pilot to decide whether it was safe enough to land, he told Reuters.

An air traffic controller at Cilik Riwut airport in Central Kalimantan said there had been some landing delays on Wednesday.

“In the morning it is usually dark (with visibility) around 400 metres (yards). It usually lasts until 2 p.m. when visibility rises to between 800 metres to 1 kilometer,” said Zamroni who, like many Indonesians, is known by one name.

The haze, caused mostly by farmers and plantation owners setting fires to clear land, has forced many flights to be delayed or cancelled in Indonesia in recent days.

Winds have blown smoke from fires in central and south Sumatra to Singapore and Malaysia, obscuring sunlight and reducing temperatures and visibility.

The haze appeared to worsen in Malaysia on Wednesday, with pollution hitting unhealthy levels in more areas. The Borneo state of Sarawak, blanketed by smog for weeks, was the worst hit.

“Today is the worst so far,” said one resident in the Sarawak state capital Kuching. “Schools remain open but many people are already wearing face masks.”

Helicopter flights in the state have been stopped indefinitely because of poor visibility, news agency Bernama said. It also said the state government would distribute one million masks.

Kuala Lumpur was also covered by haze. Visibility at the capital’s main airport fell to 3,000-4,000 yards from the usual 10,000 yards, an airport official said.

Masud, an Indonesian forestry ministry spokesman, said most fires were in plantations and criticized local governments for not doing enough to stamp out land-clearing by burning.

“Local governments only make noise after fires have become big and caused haze problems,” he said.

He said water bombs had been dropped from aircraft and hundreds of firefighters mobilized to extinguish the blazes.

Environment ministry spokesman Hermono Sigit said about 600 hotspots were identified this week in Sumatra and Borneo.

The worst smog in the region hit in 1997-98, when drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon led to major Indonesian fires. The smoke spread to Singapore, Malaysia and south Thailand and cost $9 billion in damage to tourism, transport and farming.

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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