Asia Business Channel

Lion Air CEO criticizes Boeing and says they see me as their “piggy bank”

  • Rusdi Kirana, Lion Air Founder, bows to the relative of passengers of Lion Air Flight JT-610 in Jakarta

Rusdi Kirana, the co-founder of Indonesia's Lion Air, one of the two airlines that was involved in crashes while flying Boeing 737 MAX, has criticized Boeing over their handling and management of the accidents that involved Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines flights.

In a telephone interview, Kirana said that an apology by Boeing over the 346 lives lost in the two disasters, stood in contrast to what he viewed as hasty earlier criticism of Lion Air's pilots. Following the Lion Air crash on October 29, 2018, Boeing issued an interim report in November that asked whether the Lion Air pilots were properly trained and whether they had used correct procedures in flying the Boeing 737 MAX.

Kirana said the Boeing’s reaction demonstrates that they are taking fast-growing airlines for granted. Kirana said, "They look down on my airline and my country even though relations are always handled in a proper way. They treat us as Third World."

Kirana also accused Boeing of treating him as a "piggy bank." Lion Air has spent tens of billions of dollars on plane orders with Boeing with more than 200 planes delivered and almost 190 new planes on order. Because of its aggressive growth strategy, Lion Air has become one of Asia's largest budget carriers.

However, because of the safety issues associated with the Boeing 737 MAX, as well as Boeing’s criticism of Lion Air, the company said in December, well before the Ethiopian Airlines crash, that it would consider cancelling all outstanding orders with Boeing for aircraft, and the company has delayed taking delivery of Boeing jets worth $21 billion USD at list prices.

In a statement to Reuters news regarding Kirana’s comments, Dennis Muilenburg, the Chief Executive Officer of Boeing said: "We remain heartbroken over the tragic loss of Lion Air Flight 610. We're sorry for the lives lost and deeply regret the devastating impact on the families, friends and colleagues of the passengers and crew."

Muilenburg also said that, "Rusdi Kirana has been a leader and a pioneer in Asian aviation," Kirana and his team "remain highly valued partners to Boeing.”

Following the crash of Lion Air flight JT-610 in October, Boeing issued a statement and asked questions regarding Lion Air’s aircraft maintenance and pilot qualifications. After the crash of Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 in March, Boeing released a statement that focused on aircraft software issues. Notably, the Boeing statement did not question aircraft maintenance or pilot issues as it has done with Lion Air.

Since the Ethiopian Airlines crash, the entire worldwide fleet of Boeing 737 MAX aircraft as Boeing focuses on correcting and updating aircraft software that has been identified as the probable factor leading to the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airline crashes.

Kirana criticized Boeing and said that the company had shown inconsistencies in its responses to the two disasters and said that, "They (Boeing) cast blame for the first one and apologize after the second.

Garuda Indonesia, the country’s flag carrier has joined Lion Air and has said that it considering cancelling orders for 49 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. Indonesia has a total of 236 Boeing aircraft on order and a boycott of the company’s aircraft could seriously hurt Boeing, as Garuda and Lion Air would then buy aircraft from Airbus. Airline and financial analysts have questioned whether either airline could dump Boeing’s aircraft without facing long-term financial and operations difficulties, so they wait to see how they unfolding Boeing vs. Lion Air dilemma will play out.

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Rusdi Kirana, Lion Air Founder, bows to the relative of passengers of Lion Air Flight JT-610 in Jakarta