Monday morning crash of a Boeing 737MAX belonging to Lion Air raises questions about safety procedures at the low cost airline. Since its launching in 2000, Indonesia largest carrier has indeed a long history of crashes and accidents…
Lion Air is certainly one of Indonesia’s success story in air transport. Launched in 2000 with a
single leased Boeing 737-200, the carrier has grown to become the country’s largest carrier. The
Lion Air Group (which includes Lion Air, Batik and Wings) had a 51% market share on domestic
routes of a total of 96.8 million passengers in 2017. Lion Air alone represented 34% of all
passengers flown domestically. The airline’s network reaches 180 destinations served by a fleet
of 112 aircraft.
The airline gained global fame back to 2011 when it ordered 230 Boeing planes worth US$22
billion, Boeing largest order to date. This included 201 Boeing 737MAX, the aircraft
manufacturer’s latest model.
However, since its inception, the airline struggled with a troublesome safety record, raising
questions about its dedication to air safety in its operations. There is not a single month going
on without media reporting an incident involving Lion Air- fortunately most of the time without
any casualties. The low-cost carrier has multiple incidents in which planes have skidded off, run
off or overrun airport runways.
Not to mention one of the worst punctuality of any airlines in Indonesia. Passengers regularly
complain about lengthy delays but as the carrier offers some of the cheapest fares on the
market –and is often the only one to fly some secondary routes, travellers continue to use Lion
The carrier has also experienced a string of casualties.
In 2004, a Lion Air jet crashed in Central Java Province, killing 25 people. In 2002, one of its
planes crashed on takeoff in Riau Province on Sumatra Island, and in 2006, a Lion Air jet crashed
after landing in Yogyakarta, in Central Java, although no one was killed in the 2002 and 2006
incidents. In 2013, a Lion Air aircraft crashed into the water after an attempted landing in Bali.
The aircraft’s fuselage split in two and some passengers were forced to swim to safety – but
everyone survived. Two passengers were seriously injured after an aircraft’s tail struck the
runway in Bali in 2014 while in 2016, an aircraft overrun the runway at Surabaya airport. In
April 2018, a Boeing 737-800 collapsed after a landing in heavy rain.
Worrying is the fact that the aircraft which crashed on Monday was brand-new. Lion Air took
delivery in August of its Boeing 737MAX which is replacing its oldest aircraft. The carrier already
received 11 aircraft of this model. Lion Air Boeing 737MAX had only 800 hours of flight time. If a
brand-new aircraft has a technical issue after being put in service, this is generally due to
teething problems. They generally can be easily resolved within the first days of operation.
Lion Air CEO Edward Sirait confirmed on Monday that the aircraft in question had an
unspecified “technical problem” during its previous rotation between Bali and Jakarta but the
issue had been “resolved according to procedure”. He however refused to be more specific
over the “technical problem”.
Even in the case of serious problems, a brand new aircraft could make a safe emergency landing
on the water. First analysis of the aircraft flight after starting showed an erratic course while
eyewitnesses talked of an aircraft which abruptly plunged into the sea. The aircraft had left
Jakarta only 13 minutes before.
While inspectors will look after the black boxes of the aircraft and identify the accident’s cause, the Lion Air crash raises back again doubts over Indonesia’s safety in the skies. This could again a significant blow to Indonesia’s commitment to air safety.