INDONESIA'S Transport Ministry has summoned Lion Air, the country's fastest-growing carrier, to review its operations after recent flight delays led to revelations that the carrier had wrongly declared imported used tyres as new ones, leading to a public outcry.
Passengers were stranded for up to seven hours on four routes from Jakarta to Padang, Makassar, Batam and Surabaya last Thursday after the tyres were held up at Tanjung Priok port. Nine planes were grounded.
Lion Air's general manager Edward Sirait admitted the delays were caused by the late delivery of tyres. Port officials said the tyres were held up because they were wrongfully declared.
"We are reviewing the airline's capacity and its operations," said Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan.
The ministry could take two weeks to complete the review, which will look into the cause of the delays and also how Lion Air handles consumer complaints, he said.
Lion Air is Indonesia's largest carrier with 145 aircraft and has inked record billion-dollar deals to buy new planes from Boeing and Airbus. It has opened new routes across the archipelago, carrying half of all domestic travellers last year.
Recently, it sealed a joint venture in Thailand, after one in Malaysia last year.
But analysts say the streak of delays and other incidents show its inability to cope with rapid expansion.
An accident involving the carrier made global headlines earlier this year when one of its planes split in two after undershooting the runway at Bali airport. All 108 passengers survived.
It has been summoned by the authorities twice this year but let off with warnings.
Earlier this month, panicked passengers forced open an emergency exit after complaining of excessive heat and difficulty breathing in the plane as they waited for take-off from Manado to Jakarta.
On last Thursday's delays, Mr Sirait, referring to the preceding religious festival, said: "We admit that there was negligence on our end because we did not prepare for the Idul Adha rush that lasted from Saturday to Wednesday."
Customs and Excise Agency spokesman Haryo Limanseto said that the delay was due to incorrect documentation on five containers of tyres that arrived at Tanjong Priok port.
They were marked as new tyres but were found to be a mix of old and new ones, and lacked papers from the Trade Ministry, he told local media.
Ms Husna Zahir, chief of the Indonesian Consumer Protection Foundation, told The Straits Times that complaints against Lion Air have surged in the last two years.
They include poor communication during delays, lost baggage and lack of proper compensation for delays or cancellations.
"How can we trust them after this incident? It's time the ministry gets tough and punishes them where it hurts - a heavy fine or cutting its routes," she said.
However, severe penalties seem unlikely.
"We want them to improve, not kill them," Transport Ministry spokesman Ervan told The Straits Times.
He said Lion Air flights had been punctual 75.8 per cent of the time so far this year, ranking No.7 among all airlines in the country.
Aviation analyst Gerry Soejatman said if Lion Air continues to stumble, it could lose its top spot.
"Their dominance can be diminished if they continue to have incidents or once a major accident happens," he said.
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