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lion321Says Rusdi Kirana, CEO of Lion Air, which has been, off late, making headline for all the “right” reasons.

RusdiSurprisingly, for a man who has absolutely no emotional attachment to the airline industry, all his orders are worthy of an ego boost. Surprising for a man who started off as a typewriter salesman, and has ended up as the CEO of the family owned business of the fastest growing airline in the world fueled by a dubious source of funding. Indonesia is ranked 118 by Transparency International. The ranking runs from least corrupt at No. 1 to most corrupt at No. 176.

In the February of 2012, the Indonesian airline placed an order for 27 ATR 72-600 aircraft, which, when all delivered in 2015, will make Lion Air’s subsidiary, Wings Air, the largest ATR operator.

In the same month of the same year, Lion Air placed the then largest firm order in aviation history, for 230 Boeing aircraft: 29 Boeing 737-900ERs, and 201 737Max, with options for 150 more 737MAXs.

Said Rusdi, in 2006, to Flightglobal, “Everyone knows that the passenger doesn’t really care about aircraft. I hear other airline people say they will go from old aircraft to new aircraft because their passenger likes it. But the passenger is already flying with you so who cares? Unless you are like Singapore Airlines where it is part of your image you should only change your aircraft if the cost is better. Here in Indonesia it is all about the ticket price.”

But Yesterday, (March 18th, 2013), Lion Air ordered for a total of 234 A320 Family aircraft, comprising 109 A320neo, 65 A321neo and 60 A320ceo: one of the biggest orders from that region.

Surely, the orders are business driven. The carrier is banned from flying into the US and EU skies over safety fears. Now, Airbus and Boeing “safety experts” are running in and out of the airline auditing its safety and helping improve its rating.

Lion air has quite a few thin feathers on its cap. The first Boeing 737-900ER, and the and last ATR 72-500, were delivered to Lion Air. Lion Air is expected to be the launch customer for the 737-9 MAX.

Lion Air, with its subsidiary Wings Air, presently has a fleet of 125 airplanes, which comprise a mix of 737 Classics, 737NGs, 747-400s, MD-82s, MD-83, ATR 72s, and Dash 8-300s. This is impressive, considering the airline started operations in 1999. This combined fleet size is 17 aircraft more than the combined fleet strength of the Indonesian national flag carrier, Garuda Indonesia, and its low cost subsidiary, Citilink Indonesia.

This is surprising growth, and surprising business moves, coming from an apparently public shy, boyish charm businessman who said almost 6 years ago, on why he started an airline: “I did it because I was hungry”. Surprising that in a business with hairline margins, high costs, and stiff competition, that was the first business of choice for a starving man.

Instead, he went on to say, “I didn’t have money. If I had money at that time I would never have done an airline. Only stupid people who have money do airlines. If I had money I would buy plantations or do mining or property or restaurants.”

So we have a shy CEO who was hungry, made about US$10 a month, and decided, of all businesses, to start an airline, and has managed to grow it to the largest by fleet in the country, with money magically appearing from absolutely nowhere.

If Aditya Ghosh considers Southwest beyond Godly status, Lion air is Supernatural.

CLICK HERE to hear Aditya.