Relief after EU Lifts Flight Ban

JAKARTA ~ The government welcomed the European Union’s decision this week to remove flag-carrier Garuda Airlines and three other Indonesian airlines from its aviation blacklist.

The EU’s executive commission announced that Indonesia had achieved “significant improvements” in safety since all Indonesian-registered aircraft were banned from EU airspace in June 2007, after several deadly crashes.

“This is the fruit of our labour. We appreciate the passion, trust and technical cooperation which has been shown by the European Union safety unit,” Transport Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal told reporters.

“This was not an easy journey.”

The flight ban had angered the government and complicated talks with Brussels over a partnership agreement.

The European Commission said Garuda Indonesia, Airfast Indonesia, Mandala Airlines and Prime Air “can be taken off the list because their authority ensures that they respect the international safety standards.”

None of the airlines currently flies to European territory but Garuda is reportedly considering opening new routes to Europe.

Garuda chief executive Emirsyah Satar plans to launch flights to Amsterdam in the first half of 2010 and will look at other European destinations after that, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The airline also wants to inaugurate services to the United States, and plans to double its fleet to 116 aircraft in the next five years, including larger Boeing 777s and Airbus 330-200s, Satar was quoted as saying.

The EU ban was enacted on the basis of a report from the International Civil Aviation Organization following a string of crashes that killed more than 100 people.

Indonesia introduced new air safety regulations last year, incorporating international standards including the creation of a safety committee answerable to the president.

Violators face tougher penalties up to five years’ jail and fines up to Rp500 million (US$46,000).

Djamal said other improvements had been made in airline staff numbers and training, as well as investments in equipment.

Tourism Ministry official Jordi Paliama, the deputy director of promotions for Europe, said the EU’s move would boost the local tourism industry and encourage Europeans to holiday in the massive archipelago.

“The EU’s decision reaffirms that travelling with Indonesian airlines, especially the national carrier Garuda, is safe,” he said.

“The lifting of the ban automatically increases people’s trust in Indonesian airlines. It will automatically boost the number of incoming tourists from Europe.”

Despite its poor safety record and the global economic downturn which has savaged the airline industry, Garuda posted a 10-fold increase in profits last year thanks to increased revenue and passenger numbers.

The company’s net profit for 2008 surged to Rp670 billion ($60.97 million) from Rp60 billion the year before.

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