Indonesia's fast-expanding aviation sector under scrutiny

Indonesia's fast-expanding aviation sector under scrutiny
PHOTO: Reuters

JAKARTA: Indonesia is one of the world's fastest-growing aviation markets, but it has come under fresh scrutiny since a fatal Lion Air crash last month as the sector struggles to keep up with its breakneck expansion, putting safety at risk, analysts warn.

"The vast increase in demand and operations has seen more regular accidents or events taking place that are preventable," said Dr Stephen Wright, an aviation expert at the University of Leeds.

On Wednesday, investigators issued a preliminary report that said the doomed Lion Air jet had technical problems that the airline failed to fix before its final flight.

All 189 people on board the new Boeing 737 were killed.

While officials did not lay blame or pinpoint a definitive cause of the Oct 29 accident, they said the budget carrier must take steps "to improve (its) safety culture".

Despite a spotty safety record and an avalanche of complaints over shoddy service, the carrier's parent, Lion Air Group - which also operates five other airlines - has captured half the domestic market in less than 20 years of operation.

It now has South-east Asia's biggest fleet - more than 300 planes - with growth driven by a model built on cheap prices and flights to almost every corner of the vast Indonesian archipelago.

Indonesia's safety record has improved, analysts said, since its airlines were banned for years from US and European airspace for safety violations.

Still, the country has recorded 40 fatal aviation accidents over the past 15 years.

The US and European Union flight bans have been lifted in recent years, but the industry is still wrestling with outdated infrastructure, accusations of cutting corners and heavy restrictions on hiring pilots and technicians from overseas to plug staff gaps.

The carrier's chief, Mr Edward Sirait, disputed any suggestion that pilots are not properly trained. He said: "They'd never be able to fly abroad if they were not qualified." 

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