Australia places restrictions on Indonesia’s Lion Air

Australia places restrictions on Indonesia’s Lion Air

The crash involving Indonesia’s Lion Air on 29 October 2018, has led the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) issuing a statement which involves travel restrictions. Flight JT610, a regularly scheduled domestic service from Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport to Pangkalpinang, operated by newly delivered Boeing 737-8 MAX, crashed into the Java sea approximately thirteen minutes after takeoff. The flight was carrying 181 passengers, including two pilots and six cabin crew members. There are believed to be no survivors.

DFAT’s travel restriction however, does not extend to the general Australian public with the statement informing

“Following the fatal crash of a Lion Air plane on 29 October 2018, Australian government officials and contractors have been instructed not to fly on Lion Air. This decision will be reviewed when the findings of the crash investigation are clear,”

It is not clear whether this restriction applies only to Lion Air operated flights or to one of the many subsidiary airlines that make up the Lion Air Group.

Lion Air’s operations into Australia
The Lion Air Group of low cost airlines is made up of Lion Air, Batik Air and Wings Air (all based in Indonesia) in addition to Malaysian based Malindo Air and Thailand based Thai Lion Air. Whilst Lion Air does not operate flights in its own right from Indonesia to Australia, its wholly owned Malaysian based subsidiary airline Malindo Air does. Malindo has daily Boeing 737 operated flights from Kuala Lumpur and Denpasar to Brisbane, Perth (operated by Batik Air) and most recently Melbourne. Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) has approved Malindo’s services to Australia. In 2008, Lion Air attempted to create and Australia subsidiary, Lion Air Australia in the form of joint venture with Brisbane based SkyAirWorld. Plans fell through due to financial problems with SkyAirWorld and the lack of obtaining Australian regulatory approvals.

Indonesia’s aviation safety record in relation to the European Commission, CASA and the US FAA
Until June 2018, virtually all of Indonesia’s airlines were on the European Commission’s “Blacklist” meaning these carriers were unable to operate services to countries in the European Union. The ban had been in place since 2007. In 2009, Indonesia’s national airline Garuda, was removed from the ban along with three other carriers. Lion Air’s ban was lifted in 2016.

The United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2016 also relaxed restrictions in relation to Indonesia. It granted Indonesia a Category 1 safety record from the lower category 2 standard, having determined that Indonesia complies with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) safety standards. Airlines wanting to operate services to the United States need to classed as Category 1. Effectively, this meant Indonesian based airlines could now fly to the US.

Indonesia’ aviation safety record is far from exemplary. Yesterday’s crash of Lion Air flight JT610 was the worst air disaster in Indonesia since the 1997 Garuda crash of a 737 in Medan killing all 214 passengers. Since 2002, Lion Air has had over one dozen incidents including a crash in 2004 in Solo killing 25 people. As recently as 2013, a Lion Air Boeing 737 crashed into the sea near Bali’s Denpasar airport, luckily there were no fatalities.

The massive growth of the Lion Air Group in a relatively short time has possibly not allowed it to create a safety culture which is more congruent with those of longer established legacy carriers. The relevant aviation authorities, including Australia’s CASA, would need to take this important safety aspect into consideration when considering approvals.

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