Who the F*&@ is Lion Air?

You may have heard the name Lion Air before, but chances are you’ve never flown the airline, a low cost carrier based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Lion has been known for a few things over its decade-long history; some good and some bad. The bad? Naturally, it’s safety-related. And the good? Well, it’s debatable if it’s good, but Lion Air is known for having the two largest aircraft orders in history. This is one interesting airline.

Lion Air Orders

Operating in Indonesia is no easy task. The frequent stormy tropical weather makes for some challenging flying, especially around the often mountainous terrain. That shouldn’t mean it’s unsafe, but Indonesia has a terrible accident record across most airlines. In fact, all but a handful of Indonesian airlines are on the European Union’s blacklist of airlines you shouldn’t fly for safety reasons. That list includes Lion Air.

Lion Air started flying in 2000, and since that time, it has had 7 accidents, though most avoided fatalities. The most recent was in April when a 2-month old 737 ran off the runway in Bali. Nobody was hurt, but the preliminary report shows some very serious pilot training issues.

The accidents, however, are just the most visible sign of a stressed operation. Lion has struggled with on time performance, only achieving around 65 percent on time in 2011. (I can’t seem to find a more recent report, but hopefully it’s improved by now.) Oh, and there was that whole “pilots with crystal meth” thing.

In other words, this sounds like a lot of Indonesian airlines. You would think this would mean Lion Air was on the ropes, right? Well, we have no idea. It’s a private airline and says nothing about finances, but there are some very public signs that this airline has plenty of cash if it needs it. This is one of the fastest growing airlines in the world. As the airline approaches 100 airplanes in its fleet (including a couple 747s that it uses to fly to Saudi Arabia), it prepares for another… 500+. Yeah, I’m serious.

Last year, Lion Air ordered 230 airplanes from Boeing. That’s an order for 29 more 737-900ERs and 201 737 MAX aircraft. Then this year, it ordered 234 airplanes from Airbus. This time, the order was for 60 A320s, 109 A320neos, and 65 A321neos. This is in addition to the aircraft already on order.

Not quite blown away yet? This airline has its fingers in a million different things. It started a regional airline, Wings Air, back in 2003. This airline is now on track to operate 60 ATR-72s within the next couple years. Last year it said it would launch a private jet company called Space Jet, though I can’t figure out if that actually happened. It’s also said to be working on a pilot training academy.

Just this month, Lion launched a new full service airline called Batik Air in the city of Manado. I’ll admit, I needed a a little help from Google Maps to find Manado. It lies in the northeast of the country, a thousand miles closer to Davao in the Philippines than it is to Jakarta. Manado only has about 400,000 people, but they better be rich for this full service airline to work.

Unfortunately, what’s public is pretty much all we know about Lion Air. The last press release the airline posted on its website was from 2006. And the “Contact Us” link just gives me a server error. This is one strange airline. But in the next few years, it might be one huge, strange airline. There’s no question that Southeast Asia is going to see tremendous growth in air travel, but what role with Lion play? It could be a big player or it could just be a blip on the radar depending upon what happens in the next few years.

[Original photo via Flickr user IMAM HARTOYO/CC 2.0]

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53 Comments on "Who the F*&@ is Lion Air?"

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James Burke
Guest
I get the growth of air travel in Indonesia. There is a growing middle class, and while distances between cities are not really all that far, it is an archepelego, and the road/rail infrastructure ain’t the greatest. I never thought that these numbers made sense. Air Asia has a lot of planes coming in the pipeline (264 320neos per wikipedia), but that is spread over all their subsidiaries across SE Asia. Plus that have a lot more name recognition than Lion. I am usually pretty optimistic (I think PeoplExpress will fly again (!)), but I just cannot see this happening… Read more »
Ron
Guest

Distances between cities are not that far?! Jayapura to Banda Aceh is just a tad bit longer than Vancouver to St. John’s. And Indonesia has 7 times as many people as Canada.

Nathan
Guest

Many times airlines place huge orders for 737 and A320 aircraft to effectively block the competition from getting them. Boeing and Airbus can’t ramp-up production overnight, so if Lion gets a large chunk of deliveries over the next few years then their competitors in Asia can’t. This is a very effective way to monopolize a region with emerging air travel needs.

Lion can always sell unneeded aircraft to an airline outside of the region where they compete (Ryanair, easyJet, Southwest .. ).

Nick Barnard
Member

Thats got to make Boeing and Airbus happy. Wouldn’t this order be pretty deeply discounted? Then doesn’t the manufacturer have to support the planes depending on whomever bought them form Lionair?

David SF eastbay
Member

Doesn’t that also mean that if an airline wanted some planes (say 3) they could pay Lion Air to jump ahead in line (so to speak) and get three of Lions deliveries and Lion then take their place farther back in the position where they had ordered three? Lion Air could then get some money just to wait a bit longer for some of that order. The other airline would then I assume pay whatever price they had contracted Boeing for.

Did that make sense?

Eric C
Guest
The preliminary report doesn’t show serious training issues, because it doesn’t show much of anything! The full CVR transcript, autopilot mode, and engine power settings are missing, for example. We have no idea if the crew attempted a missed approach at minimums or if they continued, only that a transfer of control occurred and that the words “go around” were stated 1 second prior to impact. That information that could be exonerating for the crew was omitted is perhaps as damning as any facts would be, but until more data is released this is all speculation. Some of the pilot… Read more »
David SF eastbay
Member

Does it make sense to order 200+ planes from each of the big two manufactures?

Are they looking at starting airlines in different parts of the world and for some odd reason 737’s work better in one part of the world and A320-types in another?

If I were Boeing and Airbus, I wouldn’t plan on filling my wallet to much with Lion Air money since that’s a lot of planes for down the road delivery, and a lot can happen before then.

Konstantin
Guest

Maybe they just split the deal and maxed it out in order to benefit from the available export financing (Eximbank and whatever the European one is called).

Red
Member

What kind of Low Cost Airline flies 747s… A dumb one how in the world do they make Money on 747 flights to Saudi Arabia

Konstantin
Guest

If the 744 were dirt-cheap, and in a market where the product doesn’t matter that much – transporting laborers, maids and pilgrims – it could be a viable alternative to new 777s/330s.

Ron
Guest

A lot of airlines in Muslim countries fly their biggest aircraft to Saudi Arabia, often older airframes in a dense configuration. Some of these are only used during the Hajj season. It’s a huge pilgrim destination.

Red
Member

Oh I see

David SF eastbay
Member

Haj is a big 747 reason. Also the whole middle east uses what some would call ‘slave labor’ from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh/the Phillipines and Indonesia. I believe Indonesia has the largest Muslim population outside the middle east so those aircraft could be well used.

Reeco
Guest

David – Indonesia is the largest moeslim population in the world. The 747 to Jeddah was bought exclusively for Hajj (Lion is the only airline -other than the Flag Carrier Garuda Indonesia- given the rights to serve Hajj Flights).
The rest of the season, the 747 is filled with Indonesian workers going back and forth to Arabs countries.
Lion is Indonesian Migrant workers first choice when it came to air travel. Try to Fly Lion KUL – CGK or any other KUL – Indonesia routes, and you’ll understand.

Southeasterner
Guest

Have flown Lion a few times. The one major point that is being overlooked is that many other low-cost carriers also fly in Indonesia and are making large investments in aircraft, many of which I have also flown on.

The problem is the Indonesian government is expanding airports and infrastructure at a far lower rate. The current round of expansion at Jakarta will help to accommodate current traffic volumes and Bali is still decades away from having their new airport.

Where are all these aircraft going to land? The capacity just doesn’t exist.

Oliver
Guest

I thought the “run off te runway” claim for the Bali crash was bad initial media reporting and the plane landed short of the runway, based on flight paths I saw.

John
Guest

Batik Air didn’t launch _in_ the city of Manado, but _to_ the city of Manado as its first destination from Jakarta. Since then, Batik Air has started flights from Jakarta to Ambon, Balikpapan, and Pekanbaru and by the end of the month to Denpasar and Yogyakarta.

Gocioo
Guest

lion air is good enough for me

Bravenav
Guest
Indonesia has been the fastest growing air market for several years now. Consider that it’s the world’s fourth largest country (just behind the US), composed of thousands of islands spread out over an area as large as the US, has lots of natural resources including oil and precious metals (i.e. lots of business travel), and has only been truly open to competitive independent airline operations since Suharto’s departure in 1998. They don’t have a large Air Force to rely upon for experienced pilots like many other countries do, so finding qualified pilots has to be challenging. One of my flights… Read more »
JA
Guest

How to simulate what Lion is doing:

1) Pull the dollar bills from your wallet.

2) Drop them into your washing machine mid-cycle.

3) Think about it.

RICH
Guest

Brett
Sent this to my business associates in Jakarta..
They all fly Lion Air…. They were laughing,
I think… but, on 2nd thought
maybe that was controlled crying…I heard

kelty
Member

Many countries have a 747 on hand in case the leader needs to go somewhere. It also confers some prestige.

If I were a business selling planes, I would want a major deposit on this order before offering a volume discount.

jamesgdpollard
Member

Whilst I wouldn’t fly Lion air due to safety concerns, i wanted to point out re: the 500 orders.

The order may be for 500, but they are spread over a number of years (obviously), and a decent chunk will be aircraft replacement as they shed their current frames are maintenance (and thus, cost) falls due. ie. buy a new one instead of maintaining the ‘old’ one.

John U.
Guest
@Cranky, Their goal is to take on Air Asia – which I regularly fly (Air Asia has also made an aggressive push into Lion’s Indonesia turf) and I have flown Lion as well. Lion is better in a sense that when you book a flight on them, they give you a matrix of dates and FINAL PRICES (just remember the exit tax can vary from city to city in Indonesia) where as with Air Asia, the final price of your flight can easily be double or more when you buy a seat (huh?), buy some KG for your checked-in luggage… Read more »
Nico
Guest

Living in Indonesia I travel with Lion Air quite a lot, and there are a w issues with pilot training as I pointed out in this article based on recent articles in national paper about the aviation industry: http://atravellersjourney.com/air-safety-in-indonesia/ Training civil servants as pilots is just the tip of it.

As for Manado: it’s got a thriving tourist industry as well as plenty of mining that goes on in the region and with terrible infrastructure in Sulawesi there is definite demand.

Matthew
Guest
I just flew Lion Air last weekend. While the tickets were bought post-Bali incident, I still felt very safe. I flew CGK-DJJ-UPG-CGK (Jakarta-Jayapura about 2000nm) in a new 738 with the Sky Interior. The planes were comfortable and clean the staff were efficient enough and customers were definitely happy with the price (about 40% cheaper than Garuda). One thing that surprised me is how little they push BoB. I might just be comparing it to AirAsia but they weren’t pushing at all. While this was my first trip on Lion and all flights departed and arrived on time, my fellow… Read more »
Munding
Guest

…. And they started as a TRAVEL AGENT. What a success story *_* (source: http://traveloka.com/lion-air )

Reeco
Guest

Munding – the big question is. Who really owned Lion Air. it created Wings air, Batik Air, Malino Air (JV with NADI of malaysia)

Ezytravel.co.id
Guest

Based on data from the Ministry of Tourism Republic of Indonesia in 2014 we had 250 million flights, domestic flights and international flights. wow

Minangkabau
Guest

Lion Air and other Airlines have expensive ticket flight to Minangkabau Padang Wesy Sumatra, we still didn’t have another choice

Tiyo
Guest

Even with their huge aircraft (e.g Lion Air had 106 mixed 738, 739, 2 Airbus 330, and 2 744) they always lack of aircraft. Plus their average use of A/C mostly around 9 hour a day. Dunno if that was high or not.

Work as production control here at Batam Aero Technic (one of many Lion Air subsidiary)

Dan
Guest

Interestingly, Lion Air was removed from the EU blacklist this June (2016).

Belajar Bahasa
Guest

Thanks God until now we always use Garuda Indonesia at least Citilink for traveling around Indonesia.

NICK
Member

I think there is talk of building an airport of those Indonesian islands rather close to Singapore and the Malaysian penisula. I think Lion Air is the one trying to get this thing built (correct me if I am wrong). Maybe those investments in aircraft aren’t such a bad idea…..

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