Lion Air pilots' experience levels concern EU monitors

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European air safety specialists are to keep watch over the operations of Indonesian carrier Lion Air after expressing concern over the experience levels of pilots at the rapidly-expanding airline.

Lion Air and Indonesia's regulator, the DGCA, attended recent hearings of the air safety committee which governs the European Commission's blacklist of banned and restricted operators.

The DGCA told the committee on 25 June that regulatory approval is required before airlines can expand their fleets.

"However, the DGCA had not intervened with the expansion plans of Lion Air because they considered them to be adequately resourced and controlled," states formal documentation detailing the air safety committee's discussions.

Lion Air told the committee that it was able to obtain adequate resources to manage its fleet expansion, it adds, but accepted "minimum licensing requirements" for captains and first officers and "did not demand additional experience".

The air safety committee and the European Commission "noted with concern" the low experience levels of pilots being recruited by the airline, adding that they would "continue to closely monitor" its safety performance.

Investigators are still conducting an inquiry into the approach accident involving a Lion Boeing 737-800 in April, during which the aircraft descended short of Bali and crashed into the sea.

The DGCA told the committee it had carried out a safety audit of Lion Air and ensured that the carrier had taken corrective action following publication of an interim report into the accident.

Lion Air added that it was awaiting the final report into the crash to identify root causes, but that it had used a flight operations quality assurance programme to assess hazards.

Just a handful of Indonesian airlines, including flag-carrier Garuda Indonesia, have been removed from the European blacklist since a blanket ban was imposed on the country. Lion Air is among carriers still subject to the restriction.

But the Commission and the air safety committee have acknowledged "sound progress" by the DGCA to improve the situation, including plans to invite the US FAA to perform an audit in August. The FAA still lists Indonesian safety oversight as being non-compliant with ICAO standards.