Indonesian military planes and aircraft from Singapore are searching an area of the Java Sea after Flight QZ8501 lost contact with air traffic control around halfway through its journey from the Indonesian city of Surabaya, in eastern Java, to Singapore on Sunday morning.

AirAsia said no distress call had been issued after the missing Airbus A320-200 requested permission to climb to 38,000 feet in order to avoid thick cloud. There were 155 passengers – 138 adults and 17 children – plus seven crew on board the plane.

AirAsia Indonesia is part-owned by Malaysia-based budget airline AirAsia, and the incident looks set to cap a disastrous year for the Malaysian air industry following two previous devastating losses.

National flag-carrier Malaysia Airlines lost contact with Flight MH370 as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing in March with 239 people on board. Mystery still surrounds the circumstances of its disappearance, and the wreckage – thought to be in the southern Indian Ocean – has not been found. Malaysia Airlines suffered a second catastrophe when Flight MH17 was shot down over war-torn Ukraine in July, killing all 298 people on board.

The chief executive of AirAsia is Malaysian-British businessman Tony Fernandes, the chairman of Premier League football club Queens Park Rangers. Mr Fernandes said on Twitter that he was travelling to Surabaya, and added: “My only thoughts are with the passengers and my crew. We put our hope in the salvage and rescue operation and thank the Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia governments.”