May 24, 2016 12:03 am JST

Indonesia's Lion Air disciplined after further mishaps

WATARU SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer

JAKARTA -- Lion Air, Indonesia's largest budget carrier, has been ordered to address persistent shortcomings after mishaps continue to come to the attention of aviation authorities.

Lion Air needs to conduct "introspection internally to make improvements in flight operation management", the transportation ministry announced on May 19. The ministry said it will not allow the airline any additional routes for six months.

On May 10, Lion Air pilots came out on strike to protest unpaid expenses, and caused major flight delays at a number of airports.

The ministry also said it is suspending Lion Air's ground-handling permit after passengers from Singapore were disembarked to a domestic terminal instead of an international one. Sixteen passengers entered Indonesia without passing through immigration, causing a security alert. The case is still under investigation.

The ministry also noted that Lion Air is suspending 217 flights on 54 domestic routes, and 10 flights on two international routes, over a one-month period. Although the airline said this is unrelated to government actions, it comes at an awkward time ahead of Eid al-Fitr in July. The religious holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting, and sees millions of Indonesians traveling home.

Lion Air responded to the sanctions by reporting Suprasetyo, the ministry's director general of air transportation, to the police on the grounds that his directives had been made without adequate investigation.

Founded in 1999, Lion Air built itself up on the back of strong demand for cheap flights. It grabbed international attention in 2011 when it signed an order for 230 aircraft from Boeing, which at the time was the largest order in the U.S. plane maker's history. The airline operates over 100 aircraft, and has expanded operations to Thailand and Malaysia.

Despite its popularity, the airline has been associated with frequent delays and operational problems. In January, several Lion Air porters were arrested after being caught on camera pilfering from luggage.

At the height of Chinese New Year in 2015, Soekarno-Hatta international airport was thrown into chaos by Lion Air delays lasting as long as three days. Thousands of passengers were affected, and some of the most infuriated stormed the airline's offices.

Lion Air's most serious accident occurred in 2013 when one of its aircraft missed the runway in Bali and landed in the sea leaving several passengers injured.

Lion Air is among a number of Indonesian airlines banned from entering the European Union for safety reasons. Privately owned, the company has kept quiet about its profitability and financial wellbeing, leading to questions about corporate governance. Its founder, Rusdi Kirana, is a senior politician who has repeatedly mentioned plans to take the airline public, but no steps have yet been taken in that direction.

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