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Indonesia aviation set for clearer skies

Publication Date : 11-12-2012


As the skies over Indonesia's sprawling archipelago look set to get more crowded next year, industry players such as Airbus and Boeing are being asked to take a close look at the country's chequered aviation industry, senior officials have said.

Some 130 new routes are also expected to be added, and as many as four new carriers are set to take off next year.

Deputy Transport Minister Bambang Susantono also expects national carrier Garuda to be cleared by the United States' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to land in that country by next year.

Garuda was effectively banned from landing in the US in 2007, after several cases of Indonesian plane crashes and negligence in safety compliance.

"The president of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) came to Jakarta and noted how we have set up a very different message now to make sure our skies are safe," Dr Bambang said of the visit which took place two weeks ago.

"We are expecting an upgrade from the FAA... and Airbus and Boeing will establish a centre of excellence in Indonesia especially for training and human resources development."

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of a ceremony that will see his ministry collaborating with Singapore Press Holdings' conference division, Sphere, for next June's Future Transport Show Asia.

Europe lifted its ban on Garuda in June 2010, after it was imposed in 2007 for reasons similar to the FAA's.

These developments signal improvements in aviation safety standards for Indonesia, which is seeing a spurt in the number of carriers taking to its skies as more of its 240 million population become more affluent and opt for air travel, officials say.

The humming economy has largely fuelled this growth as more domestic carriers branch out and foreign players enter the lucrative aviation market.

Domestic air travel has been increasing - this year it will hit a record 13 per cent, higher than the global average - and is expected to continue the strong growth in tandem with healthy economic growth, according to Transport Ministry officials.

Only a third of the population are flying now, indicating a potential for massive growth in a country the ICAO already ranks as home to the world's third-largest aviation industry.

Four new carriers - Batik Air, a subsidiary of Lion Air, Nam Air, Kartika and Jatayu - are scheduled to start up next year, while 130 new routes reaching the most remote parts of Indonesia outside Java are being considered, especially in the far-flung eastern part of the archipelago.

The spurt has seen Indonesian carriers aggressively buying up planes from Airbus and Boeing to tap the growing confidence in flying. The largest airplane order to date came from Indonesia's most popular low-cost carrier, Lion Air.

It inked a deal last year with Boeing for 230 aircraft at US$22.4 billion.

A major overhaul in airport infrastructure is also under way. Construction of 24 new airports across the country is expected to begin soon and be completed by 2017, while the relocation and construction of 21 other airports is expected to be done by 2022.

This buoyant mood is a marked contrast from 2007, when two air crashes involving planes of Garuda and the now-defunct Adam Air killed about 130 passengers, prompting a ban on Indonesian carriers flying to Europe.

Dr Bambang says Indonesia has learnt from its mistakes and is striving hard not to repeat them. "We are open to scrutiny. Safety is something we don't ever want to compromise."

Indonesia has accepted supervision from the ICAO to conduct training of airport officials and improve airport administration.

Consultants from Airbus or Boeing are also being sought to train air traffic controllers, airport fire services and the pilots it needs to keep up with aviation growth.

While agreeing major safety issues are being addressed, aviation analysts like Gerry Soejatman say Indonesia is not out of the woods.

There are still sporadic cases of pilots behaving badly - such as Lion Air pilots caught for taking drugs and, recently, a careless landing at the wrong airport.

In mid-October, a Sriwijaya Air plane carrying 96 passengers landed at Tabing airbase in Padang, West Sumatra, 12km from its intended destination of Padang airport.

A ministry spokesman called it a "serious" breach of safety, though the landing was normal, and the foreign pilot has been suspended pending investigations.

"Anecdotally, there has been an increase in overruns and you question the decisions being taken that cause that," said Gerry.

"These incidents appear small and may not make news but it just takes one thing to break the (safety) chain. The safety culture has to improve."


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