Lion Air Flight 610 Initial Data Indicates Pitot-Static System Issue

Lion Air Boeing 737-MAX8 2018

Kreindler Following Lion Air Flight 610 Crash into Java Sea – 189 People Missing

Lion Air Flight 610 crashed 13 minutes after takeoff from Jakarta, Indonesia on Monday, October 29, 2018. 189 people were onboard the Indonesian airline's aircraft and all are presumed dead. The plane was a new Boeing 737 MAX 8, and was delivered to Lion Air less than 3 months prior to the crash. The Boeing 737 MAX 8 used CFM LEAP-1B fuel-efficient engines. The first flight of this plane model was on January 29, 2016. The weather was sunny with little wind. The intended destination was 8 hours away on Bangka Island off Sumatra, but the pilots began experiencing trouble almost immediately after takeoff. Although the pilots did not declare an emergency, they did radio air traffic control 5 minutes after takeoff to report that the flight needed to return to Soekarno–Hatta International Airport in Jakarta. 8 minutes later, the flight disappeared from the air traffic control’s radar coverage. Workers on a nearby oil platform in the Java Sea witnessed the plane plunging into the water with a steep nose-down angle.

Known Issues with Flight 610

Radar data showed that the Boeing 737 was behaving erratically during the short flight. About a minute into the flight, the altitude dropped about 726 feet over a span of 21 seconds. Data shows that it was corrected, and the airplane began to climb, but then at approximately 2-3 minutes the airplane began to level off. At about 10-11 minutes into the flight, the airplane made a sudden, steep descent and then dropped off radar.

The airplane’s flight profile was inconsistent with an autopilot-controlled flight. The radar data indicates that the pilots experienced difficulty controlling the airspeed, climb rate and altitude of the airplane. Lion Air’s admission that the plane had an unspecified technical issue on the previous flight, as well as the plane’s abrupt nose dive just 12 minutes after takeoff on the fated flight, have raised questions about whether there were faults specific to the newly released model. The cockpit voice recorder and digital flight data recorders will provide key information into the cause of the crash. Early reports from Indonesian safety investigators indicate that each of the four previous flights of the crashed plane had problems with the airplane’s airspeed and this may implicate the pitot-static system. Errors in the pitot-static system can be extremely dangerous and can cause the pilot to receive unreliable altitude and airspeed information (among other information) and lead to disaster.

Notable Issues on the Previous Flight – Lion Air Flight JT43

On its immediately preceding flight (Lion Air Flight JT43), the aircraft experienced a technical issue as it flew from Bali Island, Indonesia to Jakarta. The Bali airport authority reported to media that the aircraft had experienced a "speed and altimeter" issue. Soon after takeoff, the Lion Air pilots reportedly made a PAN-PAN call to alert air traffic control of an urgent situation. A PAN-PAN-PAN alert call is one step down from a Mayday call which indicates imminent danger. Ultimately, the pilot of Lion Air Flight JT43 decided to continue the flight onto Jakarta and not to return to base (RTB) after reporting that the problem had been resolved while in flight.

Passenger complaints from the previous flight – Lion Air JT43

Passengers on Flight JT43 made social media posts on Instagram sharing their concerns about the prior flight. One passenger aboard Flight JT43 told TVOne that the plane dropped suddenly several times just minutes into the flight. National Transport Safety Committee (NTSC) deputy chief Haryo Satmiko spoke with reporters about the technical issues aboard Flight JT43. Data from FlightRadar 24 showed unusual variations in airspeed readings and altitude, as well as an 875-foot drop over a 27 second time span before it stabilized and continued on to Jakarta. A similar pattern is also seen in data from Monday’s fatal flight. Safety experts caution that the data must be checked against the information recovered from Flight 610’s black boxes.

About Lion Air

Lion Air, owned by Lion Air Group was started in 1999 and is considered a budget airline. It has more than 110 aircraft and is Indonesia’s largest airline. The airline was banned from 2007-2016 from operating in EU and US airspace. Two days following the Flight 610 crash, Lion Air, acting upon "the instruction and the decision of the (Indonesian) Transportation Ministry" fired its technical director. Indonesian news website tirto.id reported that Lion Air Managing Director Daniel Putut said that the airline had "many questions" for Chicago-based Boeing and they would discuss the delivery of 737-MAX models still on order.

Previous Lion Air Incidents

Significant Lion Air crashes include:

• January 2002: Lion Air Flight 386 crashed after attempting take off. Everyone survived, but the entire aircraft was written off.

• November 2004: Lion Air Flight 538 crashed in Surakarta, killing 25 people.

• March 2006: Lion Air Flight 8987 crashed after landing and skidded off the runway. No one died but the plane was written off.

• April 2013: Lion Air Flight 907 overshot a landing and crashed into the water near Denpasar. Passengers and crew were evacuated.

Indonesia Aviation Industry Blacklist

Due to its past erratic safety record, Indonesia’s aviation industry was only recently removed from U.S. and European blacklists. Flight JT610 is the country's second-deadliest air disaster in two decades and has renewed concerns over Indonesia’s flight safety. The country’s worst aviation accident occurred in 1997 when a Garuda Airbus A-300B4 crashed just short of the airport in North Sumatra killing all 234 people on board. A 2014 AirAsia crash killed all 162 on the flight when the plane hurtled into the Java Sea. According to the Aviation Safety Network, Indonesia has seen 40 fatal air disasters in the past 15 years.

Accident Investigation

One of the Boeing 737 MAX 8’s flight data recorders was recovered 3 days after the crash from the floor of the Java Sea. The flight voice recorder has not yet been recovered from the Java Sea.

According to the Transport Minister, Budi Karya Sumadi, the Directorate-General of Air Transportation requested that Lion Air remove four officials (Director of Maintenance and Engineering, Quality Control Manager, Flight Maintenance Manager and Release Manager) from duty to assist in the investigation. The officials’ aircraft maintenance engineer licenses will be suspended during the process. Transport Minister Sumadi said that all Boeing MAX 8 planes operated by Lion Air and Garuda are going through an inspection process with no issues found so far. Both Boeing and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) are assisting with the investigation.