Lion Air, Indonesia’s largest domestic carrier, is expanding its routes and training facilities, having ordered 20 Cessna 172s and one Boeing 737-900ER simulator, its third, to shore up an impending need for pilots. The budget carrier has placed orders for more than 500 narrowbodies with Boeing and Airbus; it currently has a fleet of 96 aircraft.
Indonesia’s growing middle class and poorly served air corridors have provided the region’s airlines with opportunities for expansion. In the next 20 years, the Indonesian middle class will grow from 130 million to 240 million people, the World Bank estimates.
Malindo Air of Malaysia, which is 49 percent owned by Lion Air, is launching a daily nonstop 737-900ER service from Kuala Lumpur to Dhaka, Bangladesh, on August 28. The carrier awaits regulatory approvals to launch flights to New Delhi, Trichi, Cochin and Mumbai in India, “as demand is there,” said CEO Chandran Ramamurthy. Malindo Air will funnel through-traffic to underserved Indonesia via Malaysia.
Lion Air has been banned from operating in European airspace since 2007, when the European Union placed all 51 Indonesian airlines on its air safety list following a series of fatal accidents, including the March 2007 crash of a Garuda Indonesia 737 on the island of Java that killed 22 people. (The EU announced its latest list update on July 10, saying that it had removed Philippine Airlines and Conviasa of Venezuala.) Though the EU lifted its prohibition of five Indonesian carriers, Lion Air’s hopes to be removed from the air safety list suffered a setback in April when one of its 737-800s crashed into the sea on approach to Denpasar-Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport, with no fatalities. On August 7, a Lion Air 737-800 carrying 117 passengers hit a cow while landing and skidded off a runway at Gorontalo’s Jalauddin Airport in eastern Indonesia.“The reason why nearly every Indonesian carrier is banned from EU airspace is not because of the airlines, but because the EU has issues with the DGCA [Indonesia’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation] with regard to its ability to provide proper regulatory oversight. Lion Air sets higher standards for itself” than those mandated by the DGCA, Rusdi Kirana, Lion Air Group co-founder and CEO, told AIN. “Lion has a robust safety system in place,” he added. “This includes taking the time and effort in recruiting pilots to see that only the most highly skilled and competent pilots join our ranks.”
The first in the country to establish its own training program, Lion Air’s Wings Flying School, which is based at a general aviation airport on Java island, has 16 Cessna aircraft, with four more to be delivered by December. The school expects delivery of 20 more aircraft between August next year and December 2015. It chose Cessna 172s because “Cessna has the most trainer aircraft in Indonesia and we have easier access to spare parts,” said flying school head Audy Punuh.
Lion Air’s planned fleet growth “warrants having our own flying school,” said a Lion Air spokesman. “We have a guaranteed source of pilots. If we rely solely on outside providers, we will be competing against other airlines for cadet pilots.”