Lion Air JT-610: a preventable accident?

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Chappy Hakim
Air Chief Marshal

IO – The level of aviation safety has drastically improved in the last 20 years, due among other reasons to the rapid advance of science and technology. The frequency of aircraft accidents has dropped to as low a level as possible. However, the reality is that aircraft accidents still occur, even with very modern, high-technology machinery.

In 2009 a Turkish Air Flight Boeing 737-800 traveling from Istanbul to Amsterdam crash-landed at Schipol International Airport in Amsterdam. In the same year an Airbus A-330 (Air France Flight 447) leaving Rio de Janeiro for Paris crashed into the Atlantic Ocean killing all 228 passengers and crew members. In 2013 Asiana Airlines Flight 214, a Boeing B-777-200ER crashed on final approach into San Francisco International Airport. Of the 307 souls on board, two passengers died at the scene, and a third died in a hospital several days later.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) highlighted this matter when discussing the causes of those three accidents, which afterwards lately became a talking point in the aviation world, namely, concerning over-reliance on automation and insufficient systems understanding by the flight crew.

Meanwhile, two accidents occurred in Indonesia at Lion Air, with brand-new aircraft. The Lion Air incidents shocked the world, since at the time of sluggish flight business this Airline had acquired more than 200 airplanes from Boeing, more than 200 others from Airbus, and a number of airplanes from ATR. The big question is with regard to the fatal accidents in 2013 and 2018, with the latest B-737 high technology aircraft. A B-737-800 ran off the runway and ended up in the sea in April 2013, upon landing at Ngurah Rai International Airport in Bali. The next incident was the Boeing-737 MAX 8 airplane from the same airline, that crashed into the waters of Jakarta Bay on Monday, 29 October 2018, 13 minutes after takeoff from Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

The skill of the pilot in command in flying the airplane is one issue, while inspection and maintenance is another dominant issue in the context of such an accident. It is reasonable to suspect incompetence in the Lion Air management: its track record is replete with numerous complaints from passengers, while the main competitive concern is to keep a cheap ticket tariff. Management performance of this Airline apparently lacks professionalism, in view of its history, culminating in two new airplanes fitted with the latest technology crashed into the sea only within a time frame of 5 years.

The suspicion of poor management performance at Lion Air rose when the Komite Nasional Kecelakaan Transportasi (“National Transportation Accident Committee”, or KNKT) released their results of the initial investigation after examining the black box, namely, that the airplane had experienced a relevant incident the previous Monday: an Airspeed Indicator Failure was noted during 4 flights before this accident took place. The lack of attention to the same failure repeated four times clearly shows the incompetence level of the technicians servicing the aircraft. The picture of the neglect in preparing and operating the airplane professionally emerged with the finding of a repeated failure.

What’s more, there was the news that on Wednesday, 7 November 2018 in the afternoon, Lion Air Flight JT-633 clipped a light pole at Fatmawati Airport in Bengkulu, when taxiing for takeoff. The question is, how can an Airline as big as Lion Air tolerate such fatal neglect and carelessness with an accident that snuffed out 189 lives at once only 13 minutes after the airplane took off? The next question is to what extent can a big airplane manufacturer as Boeing sell hundreds of airplanes to a poorly-managed airline, with no view toward aviation safety? To what extent is the moral responsibility of an airplane manufacturer in the class of Boeing in marketing its products?