By Putu Deny Wijaya
The Boeing 737-200 And the Start of the Jet Age in Indonesia
Lately, aviation enthusiasts have rarely seen Boeing 737-200 aircraft — easy to notice with a distinctive engine shape — crossing the Indonesian archipelago. The reason is that many national airlines have stopped operating these aircraft, among them Sriwijaya Air.
The airline, owned by Chandra Lie, was recorded to have operated 10 Boeing 737-200s. Its last unit ended its final flight in August 2013. There are still other airlines that operate it, such as Xpress Air, but there are only a few of the aircraft operating relatively infrequently.
The 737-200 is one of the aircraft that has driven the aviation business in Indonesia for decades. Previously, the government banned private airlines from using jet aircraft. The ban was meant to protect the business of government-owned airlines, namely Garuda Indonesia and Merpati Nusantara, which have been using jet aircraft since 1975. It was only in the 1990s that, at the insistence of airlines, the government opened the jet age for the airline’s fleet.
Capt Kusmintardjo, a senior pilot for the Boeing 737-200, recalls this.
“It was around the 1990s, I was still working at Bouraq Airlines. I operated this aircraft for the first time,”
According to him, this plane has a different aura. With its booming sound compared to the propeller planes that were commonly used at the time of the introduction, people in the area quickly became fascinated by the aircraft. Many people in the area were amazed and finally wanted to try boarding a plane.
Because it is capable of landing on an 1800-meter-long (6,000-foot) runway, this aircraft was widely used to open routes to less trafficked areas within Indonesia.
Sharpening The Pilot’s Feelings
Boeing makes three civilian variants for the 737-200, namely the 737-200, the Boeing 737-200C and the Boeing 737-200 Advanced.
The first 737-200 aircraft was introduced to the public for the first time on June 29, 1967, and then flew for the first time on Aug. 8, 1967. Two years before its introduction, Boeing had already received an order for this aircraft from United Airlines. Until the last production unit rolled off the line in 1988, Boeing had produced as many as 1,095 aircraft of this type in various variants.
The last aircraft of the type delivered to buyer Xiamen Airlines on Aug. 8, 1988, were the 737-200 and 737-200 Advanced variants. Then Boeing replaced its production with the Boeing 737 Classic — including the -300, -400 and -500 — and NG — the -600, -700, -800, -900).
It was competition with European manufacturer Airbus that forced Boeing to start updating its highly-selling product.
“The panels in the cockpit are a transition between manual and computerized. The shape is still round glass like the panels on a car,” said Kusmintardjo.
According to him, these panels make a pilot feel like a real pilot because he doesn’t depend on sophisticated computers.
“We still have to set it up manually ourselves. And when we fly, we can still rely on feeling. We can be operators as well as managers on the plane,” he continued. The navigation system used is also still conventional with Rodeta. Unlike the classic 737 and NG variants that already use the Flight Management System (FMS). With all these systems, Kusmintradjo stated the 737-200 as a very, very easy to handle aircraft.
This senior pilot gave an example when he brought a 737-200 to land at Palermo Airport, Italy, where it is known to be very difficult to land. It was 1997’s, he was working at Tunis Air. Moments after takeoff, air traffic control (ATC) warned that in Palermo the visibility was very good but the winds were very strong.
“The ATC officer advised the pilot to abort the landing in Palermo. For pilots from Europe, it is already something difficult. But the copilot and I were confident and finally managed to land it well. My feeling is that the situation is the same as in other regions in Indonesia. I am also sure, because I already know this type of aircraft,” he said.
An Achilles Heel
Another distinctive feature is the shape of the engines, which are slimmer and elongated. This aircraft engine has both advantages and disadvantages.
The advantage, according to Kusmintardjo, is that the aircraft’s drag is smaller, making it more agile. However, this type of engine also caused this aircraft to end its work. The long engine does not have a good sound suppression system like the round engine which is currently widely used in commercial aircraft.
As a result, the sound produced by the 737-200 is also louder. The very loud sound was complained of being a very large noise pollution by the people around the airport.
In addition, with a longer engine, the resulting jet blast is also getting closer to the runway. When the plane’s turns upward during takeoff or landing, the plane’s jet blast will easily damage the tarmac of the runway. This is unfavorable for airport managers because they have to repair the runway more often. Finally, with economic considerations, many airlines abandoned this plane and replaced it with newer, more fuel efficient aircraft.
Indeed, the ban on the use of the 737-200 in many European and American countries in the 1990s turned out to be a blessing in the Indonesian aviation world.
“The price of this plane is cheaper because many are not operational. Even though Indonesian airlines need a lot of planes. So we import the plane,” said Sriwijaya Air Commercial Director Toto Nursatyo. For Indonesian airlines, this aircraft was used as a bridge to a new era, one that continues to this day as the nation’s aviation market flourishes.