This morning, a new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft operated by Indonesian low-cost airline Lion Air, crashed in the Java Sea, tragically, with 189 people onboard. The aircraft was heading for Pangkalpinang, off Sumatra.
It’s the first accident for the new aircraft type, and potentially the worst commercial aviation disaster in three years, given the number of fatalities.
Lion Air flight JT610 took off from the capital of Jakarta at 6:20 a.m. local time Monday and lost contact 13 minutes into its flight, at an altitude of 3,000 feet, according to Indonesia’s National Search and Rescue Agency.
Recordings of the ADS-B transmissions released by FR24 show a sharp drop in altitude, followed by a fast acceleration in the final moments of the flight.
The crashed passenger jet had flown a total of 800 — meaning it’s been flying around 10.5 hours per day since delivery from Boeing in August 2018, a mere two months ago. Indonesian authorities have confirmed the pilots requested a return to the airport shortly before the crash, but then contact was lost. The CEO of Lion Air added: “there was a technical problem on the previous flight, but it had been resolved according to procedure”
— Alex Macheras (@AlexInAir) October 29, 2018
If you’re unfamiliar with the airline, Lion Air is a large Indonesian low-cost carrier, flying to 183 routes in the Southeast Asia region, as well as a few international routes further afield, such as to Saudi Arabia and China.
The Aircraft Involved: Boeing 737 MAX 8
The Lion Air Group is one of the world largest operators of the 737, with a fleet of 116 aircraft. In addition to this, the airline is set to take delivery of another 200 Boeing 737 MAXs, and have also committed to a further 50 Boeing 737 MAX 10s.
The 737 MAX 8 is the main aircraft member of Boeing’s narrow-body ‘MAX’ family, directly competing with the Airbus A320neo. While it’s a very new aircraft, it’s already in service with many airlines around the world, including American Airlines, FlyDubai, LOT Polish Airlines, Air Italy, Norwegian Air and Ethiopian Airlines. In Asia, operators of the 737MAX include India’s SpiceJet and China Southern Airlines.
The aircraft has racked up an order backlog of over 4,000 planes.
While the cause of the crash isn’t clear, Boeing said in a statement Monday that it is ready to provide technical assistance to crash investigators.
Engine maker CFM International — a joint venture of General Electric Co. and France’s Safran SA — says it’s standing by to assist Lion Air. The aircraft involved in today’s crashÂ was powered by CFM Leap-1B engines.
Indonesia’s Poor Aviation Safety Record
This isn’t the first time Indonesia has suffered a fatal airline jet crash.
Indonesia’s accident-plagued aviation industry had more airlines with the lowest safety ranking than any other country in the world. In fact, up until this year all Indonesian carriers except one were banned from EU airspace, over safety concerns.
The last major air accident in Indonesia was in December 2014 when an Air Asia Indonesia A320 crashed into the sea after taking off from Surabaya to Singapore with 162 people on board.
Lion Air itself has suffered several hull losses (an industry term for when an aircraft is beyond repair). The most recent was in 2013 when a two-month-old Boeing 737-800 ended up in the water short of a runway at Denpasar-Ngurah Rai Bali International Airport. The aircraft fuselage broke apart on impact, but thankfully there were no fatalities.
Following today’s fatal 737MAX crash, Australia has already banned all government officials and contractors from flying airlines belonging to the Lion Air Group flights, amid new safety concerns.
The wreckage recovery operation is still underway, and investigators are now searching for the black box.
My thoughts & prayers continue to be with all of the families and loved ones of the passengers/crew onboard this Lion Air 737 MAX.
It’s incredibly unusual for a brand new commercial aircraft to be involved such an incident, and the investigation into what has happened is already underway.