The Indonesian airline industry has made progress toward mending its reputation — amid soaring demand — after a series of spectacular crashes in recent years drew international attention to the country’s poor safety record. Now it has a new problem to deal with: drug abuse among its pilots.
The police arrested a pilot from the country’s largest private airline, Lion Air, last Saturday on suspicion of possessing crystal methamphetamine, a psychostimulant that increases alertness and concentration and can create feelings of euphoria. It was the fourth such arrest of a Lion Air employee in seven months, raising fresh concerns about the airline industry’s safety and security standards, and heightening pressure on the government to enact stricter airline regulations. Rising demand from Indonesia’s growing middle class has pushed airlines to add routes and purchase more planes. The number of airline passengers increased 15 percent last year, to 66 million, according to the Transportation Ministry, which expects demand to rise further this year. To accommodate the demand, Lion Air signed a $21.7 billion deal with Boeing last November for 230 short-haul 737 jets, the biggest commercial order in the U.S. plane maker’s history. Some Indonesian transportation officials say the industry is understaffed, with pilots under pressure to work long hours. Indonesia has 57 airlines, including charter services, and about 7,000 pilots. “That’s not enough,” Bambang Ervan, the spokesman for the Transportation Ministry, said this week.
In September, the International Air Transport Association, a global airline industry group, issued a statement in support of Indonesia’s recent efforts to improve its safety record. But Garuda, the state-owned airline, is the only Indonesian airline that has received an air safety certification from the association, which has stringent standards for safety management. The European Union has banned most of Indonesia’s airlines, including Lion Air, from flying to Europe because of safety concerns.