Editorial: Government Must Man Up to Lion Air

FEBRUARY 20, 2015

There was a time when Lion Air was feted by the government, when it splashed out $22 billion on aircraft from Boeing, followed just three months later by a $24 billion deal with Airbus.

Until then, the airline was known as much for its safety incidents and frequent delays as its heady expansion, and a crash landing in Bali a month after the Airbus deal was a rude reminder of just how spotty a record the carrier has.

This week’s apocalyptic delays at airports around the country, and primarily Soekarno-Hatta, where irate passengers vandalized Lion Air’s office, are a new low even for this airline. What makes the mess particularly egregious is that the airline hasn’t given a satisfactory explanation for the nightmare delays that forced it to cancel all flights on Friday.

Its absurd excuse is that three planes went out of commission, causing a “domino effect.” Three planes, out of a fleet of 107? That doesn’t compute.

Just as bad has been the government’s kid-glove approach to the airline, which is controlled by Rusdi Kirana, a politician in President Joko Widodo’s coalition and a member of the presidential advisory council. There has been no censure from Transportation Minister Ignasius Jonan, as he dished out against Malaysian-controlled AirAsia in the wake of last December’s Flight QZ8501 tragedy.

Instead, the minister oh-so-kindly had the state airport operator pay out the ticket refunds and compensation to Lion Air passengers, saying the airline didn’t have the money just then and would pay it back later. Lion Air, which dropped $46 billion on new planes in a three-month period, can’t cough up $200,000 for refunds? That doesn’t compute.

Lion Air needs to get its act together. But more importantly, Ignasius needs to get his act together, after embarking on a series of ill-advised policies in the aviation sector.