Indonesia pilot grounded in pre-takeoff crystal meth check

JAKARTA Tue Feb 7, 2012 12:36pm EST

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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Lion Air's slogan "We make you fly" came a bit too close to home this weekend when one of the Indonesian airline's pilots tested positive for crystal meth after being arrested just hours before he was due to take off.

The 44-year-old pilot for Indonesia's largest domestic airline by passenger volume was arrested in a hotel on Saturday in Surabaya, Indonesia's second city, Sumirat Dwiyanto, spokesperson for the National Narcotics Agency, told Reuters.

He was due to head to fly to Makassar on Sulawesi island, Balikpapan on Borneo and back to Surabaya, Dwiyanto said.

"The pilot ... was arrested (on Saturday) at 3.30 am with 0.04 grams of crystal meth slipped in an envelope and he was later tested positive for the drug," Dwiyanto said.

He is the second pilot to test positive for Lion Air in 2012. Crystal meth is known as "shabu-shabu" in Indonesia and between 2010 and 2011 it overtook marijuana as the number one drug in the country of 240 million people, a senior narcotics agency official said.

Budget Airline Lion Air serves domestic flights and routes from Indonesian cities to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh. A spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

In November it placed a $21.7 billion order with Boeing (BA.N), its biggest commercial order on record. The 230 short-haul 737 jets deal takes Lion Air's orderbook to more than 400 planes.

The government now will require pilots and cabin crew to undergo drug and alcohol tests before boarding a plane, Transport Ministry spokesman Bambang Ervan told Reuters by telephone.

Indonesia is struggling to upgrade its civil air safety after a series of deadly accidents that led the European Union in 2007 to ban all Indonesian airlines from its airspace. The ban was lifted progressively starting in 2009.

(Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Matthew Bigg and Nick Macfie)

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