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2 Jul, 2007

Indonesians Blast European Ban on Garuda

Indonesian aviation and tourism authorities have been put on the defensive by last week’s European Union ban on Indonesian airlines, but are also beginning to question the timing, methodology and motivation of the move.

Although the initial reaction has been again to plead their case before the EU Transport Commission and cite all the various measures taken recently to boost safety of the Indonesian airlines, some senior officials are taking a more questioning attitude.

In an interview with the Jakarta Post, Indonesian Transportation Society (MTI) chairman Bambang Susantono expressed skepticism about how the commission’s experts arrived at their conclusions, “I don’t remember them coming here to inspect the airlines directly.” He said that information for the report may have come from pilots flying in and out of Jakarta.

Garuda Indonesia’s Vice President for Operations, Ari Sapari, told Indonesian TV that the ban “has followed an uncommon procedure” as the “EU has never audited Indonesian airlines.” By contrast, American aviation authorities have “done their own audit before making their assessments, and American authorities have not banned Indonesian airlines,” he said.

Another report quoted Indonesian Consumers Foundation (YLKI) executive director Sudaryatno as saying: “We must also look at this from the perspective of the saturated markets that exist in the developed world. We must be careful as this ban could be part of a strategic plan to ruin the reputation of local airlines so that foreign airlines can get a foothold in this country.”

He added, “Soekarno Hatta Airport (Jakarta) and Ngurah Rai Airport (Bali) are no longer gateways to Indonesia. They have been replaced by Singapore’s Changi. The situation could worsen if the stakeholders in the industry do not take the necessary steps.”

Indonesia was apparently too late to include the latest assessments audit that noted significant improvements made by Indonesian operators during the past three months, to be included in the EU Commission report, despite efforts having been made to do so, explained Director General for Air Transportation, Budhi Suyitno to the press.

Although the ban is technically only applicable to Indonesian airlines flying to Europe, it sends out a number of much wider messages, especially to travel agencies booking EU citizens on flights to and within Indonesia. Insurance companies, too, will not cover EU passengers travelling on Indonesian flights, or be legally entitled to refuse to make payouts in the event of a mishap.

Interestingly, the ban came just before a four-day Strategic Seminar on Aviation Safety to be held this week in Bali, beginning today.

The seminar will include a one-day session on “International Agencies Assistance Framework” at which donors and aid agencies from the developed countries will outline how they can fund safety-upgrade programmes for Indonesian aviation skies, thus making Indonesia more dependent on financial and technical handouts from abroad.

The ban also comes exactly three months before Bali hosts the annual travel mart of the Pacific Asia Travel Association between September 28-30, 2007 to which nearly all the buyers and sellers will be flying on Indonesian airlines, especially Garuda, the host airline.

Although PATA has recently been trying to position itself as a champion of aviation liberalisation in the Asia-Pacific, there was no immediate response to the ban on the PATA website and no statement was issued.

It was left up to Indonesia Digest Editor Tuti Sunario, a former senior official of the Indonesian Tourism Ministry to defend the interests of the tourism industry. She wrote in her weekly newsletter last week:

“ Most concerned with these latest developments is the Tourist Industry which sees the EU ban as another threat to international confidence in Indonesia’s tourism,” especially as the market has just “sufficiently recovered from the fear of terrorism.

“ Europe and European tourists form a very important market for Indonesia,” Mrs Sunario wrote. European tourists stay between 15-18 days in Indonesia, visiting many regions and spending an average of US$1,450 per person per stay, as against Asian visitors from Singapore, Malaysia, China or Japan, who stay an average of 5-8 days and spend an average of US$ 500 (Singaporeans) to US$ 838 (Japanese) per stay.

“ It is envisaged that with stagnation in the number of European tourists, regions that will suffer most are the poor, outlying traditional villages that have so far benefited from tourism, such as those in Toraja, Nias, Lake Toba, the Moluccas, Papua, East and West Nusatenggara, and the Dayak villages in Kalimantan, but also remote and handicraft villages in Central and East Java.

She added, “The European ban, although perhaps well meant, will in the end thwart those very efforts that Europe – and Indonesia – both wish to foster, which are the preservation of Culture, Sustainable Environment and the Alleviation of Poverty through the development of Tourism.”


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