Desperate for an alternative to ferries that seemed cursed by chronic deadly accidents, Indonesians flocked to the budget carrier, making it one of the worldâs fastest-growing airlines. As of 2017, the Lion Air Group, which includes other carriers like Batik Air, Wings Air and Malindo Air, controlled 51 percent of the domestic aviation market.
To keep up with surging demand, the company snapped up new planes, signing record deals with Airbus and Boeing.
But as it grew, Lion Air had significant safety problems.
In 2004, 25 people were killed when a Lion Air flight overshot the runway in the city of Surakarta. In 2013, a rookie pilot landing in Bali propelled a new Boeing 737 into the sea. No one died in that incident.
In recent years, Lion Air jets have collided with other Lion Air Group planes, along with a cow. Pilots have been caught using drugs.
Yet aviation experts also say Lion Air has improved its safety in recent years. In June, a European Union blacklisting of Indonesian carriers was lifted after more than a decade of safety worries. The United States revoked its ban in 2016.
Even as management said safety was a priority, pressure remained to keep flights operational, one veteran Lion Air pilot who also worked as a trainer said.
Hours could be brutal, up to 22 hours on duty, said pilots who worked for the airline.
As it expanded, Lion Air Group accumulated significant political influence. The companyâs co-founder, Rusdi Kirana, is deputy chairman of a political party that supported President Joko Widodo of Indonesia.