The Jakarta Post
The Transportation Ministry is conducting an investigation into the safety of low-cost carrier Lion Air following reports in recent weeks that its flights were experiencing problems midair.
Four separate cases of problems on Lion Air flights were reported in February, including the return of a flight to its airport of departure due to technical problems, an overrun incident and the finding of a scorpion inside a plane cabin.
“After we complete [assessing] all of the data, we will decide on further action or penalties to prevent incidents or accidents from taking place,” Capt. Avirianto, the ministry’s director of aircraft worthiness and operation, told The Jakarta Post recently.
Lion Air spokesperson Danang Mandala Prihantoro confirmed the investigation, saying the company was expecting to receive recommendations on improving its service quality.
“Lion Air obeys [regulations] and takes into account aspects of flight safety, security and comfort,” he told the Post.
The most recent incident occurred on Lion Air flight JT-799, which was scheduled to fly from Domine Eduard Osok Airport in Sorong, West Papua, to Sam Ratulangi Airport in Manado, North Sulawesi, on Feb. 21.
The JT-799 pilot made the decision to return to the Sorong airport minutes after takeoff after the pressurization system signaled for oxygen masks to drop from the head compartments during the flight.
A video that went viral on social media showed JT-799 passengers wearing oxygen masks as the plane was returning to Sorong.
In the company’s official statement, Danang said a return-to-base (RTB) call to Sorong went smoothly and according to procedure. He denied widespread news that claimed the pilot was initially trying to complete an emergency water landing.
“The flight was normal and a controlled one. The plane must fly around the sea to adjust the height so that its position is ideal for landing,” he said.
Over a week prior on Feb. 12, Lion Air flight JT-780 to Palu, Central Sulawesi, returned to its base in Makassar, South Sulawesi, about 30 minutes after takeoff due to technical problems identified by the pilot.
Muhammad Arief, a passenger of JT-780 flight and resident of Bangil in Pasuruan, East Java, told kompas.com that the aircraft encountered turbulence when it was above the Makassar Strait and said it felt like the plane had “lost power”. The airline maintained that the plane was safe when it returned to Makassar.
Aviation expert Alvin Lie, who is also an Indonesian Ombudsman commissioner, said return-to-apron (RTA) and RTB actions were normal for incidents in which pilots wanted to ensure passenger safety, and that any aircraft might encounter technical problems, even for flights that passed pre-flight checks.
In an incident on Feb. 16, flight JT-714 skidded off the runway at Supadio International Airport in Pontianak, West Kalimantan, during heavy rain after flying from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport. No casualties were reported.
In a separate incident involving a predatory arachnid, a passenger of Lion Air flight JT-293 found a scorpion in the cabin of a flight going to Soekarno-Hatta airport from Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Riau on Feb. 15.
Danang of Lion Air said the plane was properly examined to eliminate any possible pest threat and the airline ground staff found nothing.
The incidents come months after Lion Air’s most fatal accident – the crash of flight JT-610 that killed 189 people in the Java Sea last October.
Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) chairman Tulus Abadi said the Transportation Ministry needed to be better at auditing Lion Air in terms of its operations and finances, as some customers were afraid of using the airline.
“We have yet to hear of any reports or penalties given to Lion Air related to the JT-610 accident,” he said.
Tulus said consumers were facing a dilemma when it came to choosing an airline. Despite its problems, Lion Air was still chosen by many as it held the biggest market share in the low-cost carrier category, he said.
However, Alvin Lie said each incident was different from each other and, as such, must be assessed using different approaches.
“It must be looked into further, whether an incident is small or big and what the ratio is between the number of incidents and the total flights operated by the airline in a day,” he told the Post. “If repetitive problems are found, even if they might happen on different aircraft and flights, it be an indication that there is an aircraft maintenance problem.”
List of recent problems with Lion Air flights
Feb. 11: Flight JT-507 to Soekarno-Hatta International Airport failed to take off from Ahmad Yani International Airport Semarang, Central Java. The pilot decided to conduct a return-to-apron (RTA) procedure. In its statement, Lion Air said the RTA procedure occurred as a result of technical problems that were identified while the plane was on the apron preparing for takeoff. After a technical assessment, it was concluded that the aircraft needed a replacement of spare parts from Jakarta. A total of 175 passengers were on board.
Feb. 12: Flight JT-780 from Makassar, South Sulawesi, to Palu, Central Sulawesi, had to return to its base 30 minutes into the flight after the pilot decided to conduct a return-to-base (RTB) procedure. According to Lion Air’s statement, the pilot found indications of a technical problem that needed further review. The 737-900ER aircraft, carrying 149 passengers, had been cleared for takeoff after being declared airworthy in a pre-flight inspection, Lion Air said in a statement.
Feb. 14: A scorpion was found in the cabin of flight JT-293, which was heading to Sultan Syarif Kasim II International Airport in Riau to Soekarno-Hatta airport in Tangerang, Banten. The incident was recorded by one of the passengers, who posted a video of it on a social media platform. Lion Air said in a statement that, after receiving information about the discovery, airline ground staff comprehensively checked the cabin but found nothing. The 737-800NG plane had passed thorough pre-flight checks and was declared safe to fly.
Feb. 16: Flight JT-714 from Soekarno-Hatta airport to Supadio International Airport in Pontianak skidded off of the runway after landing during heavy rain. The plane was carrying seven crew members, 180 adult passengers and two infants. No casualties were reported in the incident, but the management of Supadio airport had to temporarily close the airport following the incident. The 737-800NG plane had undergone pre-flight checks and was declared airworthy, Lion Air said in a statement.
Feb. 21: A pilot of flight JT-799, which was carrying 94 passengers en route to Sam Ratulangi Airport in Manado, North Sulawesi, from Domine Eduard Osok Airport in Sorong, West Papua, conducted an RTB procedure after finding problems with the pressurization system and cabin air conditions. Oxygen masks dropped from the head compartment during the flight.