Scrapheap Airlines

Until this week, the central government was doing the country no favors by permitting Indonesian airlines to operate aged aircraft that are constantly involved in accidents.

At a time when officials are battling to persuade the European Union that Indonesian carriers adhere to strict international safety standards and should be allowed to enter European airspace, from which they are currently banned, their efforts are negated by an unending series of aviation near-misses here.

This week the low-cost airline Lion Air saw another of its aging McDonnell Douglas MD-90 craft involved in an incident, when on Monday a flight that originated in Makassar careened off the runway at Jakarta’s international airport and into grass. Mercifully there were no casualties.

Just weeks ago a Lion Air McDonnell Douglas MD-90 made a crash landing at Medan’s airport when its nose gear failed to deploy, leaving many of its 156 passengers in shock after the plane circled for an hour before landing as it tried to remedy the malfunction.

Lion Air was the launch customer of the ultra-modern Boeing 737-900ER, and aside from deliveries of the American planes currently in service has well over 100 on order – a fact it heavily publicizes.

It is therefore perplexing that Lion’s management is still employing old airplanes like the McDonnell Douglas MD-90. Until, that is, the government commendably issued a directive this week, due to the consecutive incidents, grounding the aircraft.

Lion Air – started in 1999 and now the country’s largest airline in terms of passenger numbers, ahead of national carrier Garuda Indonesia, and making strident inroads overseas – has eight McDonnel Douglas MD-90s and is the sole operator of the craft in Indonesia, and had said it planned to phase them out in 2010.

But before any further damage is done to its blemished reputation – and that of Indonesian aviation – it should send these planes to the scrapheap without delay.

In the meantime, the Transport Ministry should be conducing a renewed age check on the fleet of the myriad carriers now operating in this country.

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