The lackluster safety record of Indonesian airlines, highlighted by a recent non-fatal Lion Air crash in Bali, includes a troubling history of pilots using methamphetamine.
At least three Lion Air pilots have been arrested for either consumption or possession of meth since 2011, The Jakarta Globe reported.
The pilots flying the Lion Air Boeing 737-800 that crashed in Bali both passed initial drug tests.
In February 2012, a Lion Air pilot was arrested after being found with .4 grams of meth, testing positive for the drug hours before he was supposed to fly. His license was revoked and he was sent to rehabilitation, according to the Jakarta Globe.
In an article at the time, the New York Times suggested too much work as a potential motive for using meth, which increases concentration and alertness.
The Indonesian air travel industry is rapidly expanding, and may be understaffed. A Transportation Ministry spokesperson told the Times that the 7,000 pilots working for the country's 57 airlines are "not enough."
Lion Air, which has recently signed major deals to buy jets from Boeing and Airbus to match its growth, denied its pilots do not get enough time to rest on the ground.
Another possible reason for using the drug is simply to have fun. Last year, crystal meth became the number one drug in Indonesia, where it is known as "shabu-shabu," according to Reuters.
In 2012, Benny Mamoto, the head of Indonesia's National Narcotics Agency (BNN), said a large number of pilots, who have the money to buy drugs, could be users.
According to the BNN, "pilots considered crystal meth as being part of their lifestyle," the Jakarta Post reported.
"There is a possibility that airline crews are linked to drug networks," Mamoto told that newspaper.
Nearly all Indonesian airlines are banned from flying in European Union airspace because they are deemed "unsafe." The State Department suggests Americans traveling to Indonesia avoid local carriers.
Methamphetamine use by pilots in the US is considerably lower than in Indonesia, though not insignificant. The drug was detected in at least one pilot every year from 1991 to 2002, and in 2004 and 2005, according to a 2008 Federal Aviation Administration report.
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