Lion Air crash: How could a brand new plane have crashed in Indonesia?
SINGAPORE - How could a plane that started flying just two months ago crash?
That's the big question being discussed after Lion Air flight JT610 went down on Monday (Oct 29) morning. The Boeing 737 Max 8 - a new aircraft type fitted with a new engine type - had entered into commercial service in 2017 and the one that plunged into the sea was delivered to Lion Air only in August this year.
Data from Flightradar24 showed that the same plane had encountered a technical fault the night before the crash. The plane had suddenly dived from around 5500ft to 4500ft while the speed spiked from below 200 knots to 300 knots.
Lion Air acknowledged the incident but said it was dealt with, and the plane released to fly by a certified engineer.
The morning after, the same plane, carrying 189 passengers and crew crashed into the sea off Indonesia's island of Java, shortly after taking off from Jakarta.
It is believed to have also encountered some technical issues, with Reuters reporting - also from Flightradar24 data - that two minutes into the flight, it descended more than 500ft, veered left, before climbing again to 5,000ft. In its final moments, it began gaining speed and reached 345 knots (around 640 kmh) before data was lost.
The pilot had reportedly asked to return to base. This was just before air traffic controllers lost contact with the aircraft.
It is not uncommon for airlines operating new aircraft types to encounter teething problems, aviation experts said. It happened with the Airbus 380 superjumbo a decade ago, and again when the Boeing 787 entered into commercial service.
Monday's crash, though, is believed to be the first time that an almost brand new plane crashed, they added.
This being the case, questions will invariably be asked about pilot expertise and training, as well as maintenance procedures.
In short, Indonesia's air safety standards will once again be thrown into the spotlight.
Mr Michael Daniel, a retired United States Federal Aviation Administration official who has been involved in several air crash investigations, said: "I'm not aware of any accidents with new aircraft per se but they do have a higher rate of dispatch abnormalities... Component(s) failures are the most common for newer aircraft."
Such issues may crop up until the plane hits about 2,000 flying hours, he said. In the case of the Lion Air jet, it had done about 800 hours before its tragic end.
When the Airbus 380 entered into commercial service in 2007, some of the early operators of the superjumbo had to cancel flights or use replacement aircraft following incidents that included faulty fuel-quantity readings, avionics problems, fuel leaks and a steering defect.
Four years later, when Boeing delivered its first B-787 to All Nippon Airways in 2011, the plane also hit some serious turbulence.
In 2013, a fire broke out on a B-787 which was parked at a gate at Boston's Logan International Airport.
Before that, in December 2012, a United Airlines B-787 had to make an emergency landing because of concerns about an electrical panel issue.
At one point, Qatar Airways had to ground one of its B-787s because of electrical issues.
Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics, said: "It's hard to imagine that technical problems linked to the new aircraft - as reportedly claimed - could down it. We shouldn't speculate until we know for certain - and that will take time."
Indonesia's air safety standards back in the spotlight
In 2007, the European Commission imposed a blanket ban on Indonesia due to "unaddressed safety concerns", effectively prohibiting all 51 Indonesian airlines from operating to the European Union.
Two years later, Garuda Indonesia was taken off the list and in June 2016, the ban on Lion Air was also lifted.
In June 2018, the European Commission said it had removed all Indonesian carriers from the EU airline blacklist because Indonesia had made sufficient improvements to raise its aviation safety.
Before Monday's crash, other high-profile air mishaps include an accident in August 2018 that left a 12-year-old boy the sole survivor of a plane crash which killed eight people in Indonesia.
In August 2015, a commercial passenger aircraft operated by Indonesian carrier Trigana crashed in Papua due to bad weather, killing all 54 people on board.
In 2014, an AirAsia plane crashed with the loss of 162 lives.
Indonesia may be off Europe's blacklist but concerns remain.
Mr Shukor said: "Indonesia needs help... Many factors have to be looked into, including the air traffic management system, maintenance, training and so on, to cope with a rapid increase in the number of planes and passengers each year."
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