The Ridiculous Reason We Haven’t Learned More About the Lion Air 737 MAX Disaster

Lion Air flight JT610 from Jakarta to Pangkal Pinang crashed 13 minutes after takeoff on October 29. 189 passengers and crew were killed in the disaster.

Since this occurred it’s been noted that the aircraft had issues on its previous flights, and also that pilots may not have fully understand the auto-correcting nature of the systems they were working with (the autotrim and anti-stall measures).

It’s imperative that we work to understand what went wrong when there’s an aviation disaster. That’s how we prevent future occurrences. Air travel is incredibly safe in large measure because of the commitment of the world’s airlines to safety even in the toughest of financial times, and because of the understanding of past incidents that have led to changes in procedures. When something goes wrong now it’s almost always something we’ve never faced before, precisely because investigation and procedural followup has worked well.

The aircraft’s flight data recorder was recovered last month, and provided useful information to allow for a preliminary report. The cockpit voice recorder has not yet been recovered.

Unfortunately investigation of the Lion Air Boeing 737 MAX crash is stalled. And the reason is lack of money.

Thanks to budget constraints and bureaucratic wrangling, investigators still haven’t recovered the cockpit voice recorder from a Lion Air 737 MAX that crashed into the Java Sea off Jakarta six weeks ago. Indonesian investigators told Reuters this week that they need a specialized ship to find the CVR. “We don’t have further funds to rent the ship,” a source told the news agency.

The government may ask Lion Air to pay for the ship. To my mind it’s important to secure the voice recorder and do so quickly. Figure out how to pay for it later. While there are legal issues of liability between Lion Air and Boeing, and political issues surrounding Indonesia’s safety oversight, it’s the world’s airlines and air passengers that benefit from a greater understanding of any safety failure.

Update: Lion Air has chartered a ship to search for the cockpit voice recorder

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. What does “Figure out how to pay for it later.” mean? Who funds the specialized ship and crew while someone figures out how to pay for it?

    Any volunteers here?

  2. @Art – it’s the Indonesian government saying they don’t have budgeted dollars to rent the ship. They’re the ones who need to figure it out. Between Boeing, Lion Air, the Indonesian government, and airlines around the world — the Indonesian government has enough leverage to squeeze the cost of ship rental out of someone if they decide they can’t cover it.

  3. Boeing had better work with whoever to retrieve the voice recorder. There is a slim chance that the pilots mention something that completely exonerates Boeing. A plane that iced up near Buffalo I believe, a pilot is heard saying “I have never simulated ice on the wings.” Anyway, we need as much information as possible. Maybe if Airbus offers to pay for its retrieval so they can be the first to have a listen as well as show airlines they care about safety, and insinuate that their planes are not inherently difficult to fly. Others that come to mind: Southwest, American, United: all use the 737Max and should want the recordings.
    Storing the recording at the bottom of the ocean is not really an option.

  4. It makes sense if you look at it through the lens of “let’s find a way not to find the CVR”.

    “Oh, rats, we ran out of money and it took weeks to work through this silly bureaucracy. What? The pinger on the CVR is battery powered? Darn it.”

  5. Indonesia is a country of 260 million people with the 16th biggest economy in the world. The governments inability to pay for this ship is somewhat puzzling. One has to wonder if the government does not want to know what’s on that recorder.

  6. The owner of Lion air is now Indonesia’s ambassador to Malaysia and an influencing figure. He blames Boeing for the crash. We wouldn’t want facts from the CVR to get in the way now, would we?

  7. @ Art: Of course the government has the money for it, they simply say their aviation safety body hasn’t budgeted for it. I guess what Gary is suggesting is to simply make the funds available and then try to recover it from whoever is at fault (Lion Air, Boeing, both…) later and carry it as a receivable until then. Not too hard. It’s the government of one of the largest nations on the planet, so it sure does look like they don’t want to find it.

  8. I’m with Gary on this: government may not have budget for this but between them, the airline and the insurers, I would have thought they would have been able to find the money if they had to and sort out who was to pay after the fact. I doubt the operation would have had to be funded fully upfront either.

    As it happens, reports today that Lion Air has chartered a ship to conduct the search for the voice recorder. The story confirms that government has no budget for this and that parliamentary approval would be required to arrange any funding. It also says that Lion Air’s insurers are reluctant to pick up the cost.

  9. Not only can the government pull funds from other sections of their budget, they can also arrange overdrafts, take out a bank-backed loan (they do have a central bank, after all), issue debt, etc. Of course there’s ways to “pay now, figure out how to recover later.” Even if Art and Bob aren’t aware of them.

  10. Your comment is not at odds with ours…our point is that someone has to pay hard cash to the ship and crew…not a promise to pay.

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