Move Aimed at Lifting Blanket EU Ban
By William J. Furney
The Bali Times
BANDUNG, West Java/DENPASAR, Bali ~ Banned from European airspace over safety concerns, Indonesian airlines are to get a stark upgrade to ensure their airlinersâ€™ airworthiness, the countryâ€™s transport minister announced this week.
The flight ban does not only have widespread travel implications for Indonesia but has also affects political relations between the central government and European capitals.
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has postponed visits to Europe provisionally scheduled for the early part of this year, his spokesman said, saying that as head of state, it was not appropriate to travel to Europe while Indonesiaâ€™s airlines were banned from the 27-member bloc.
The ban was introduced by the EU in June last year following a number of deadly plane crashes in Indonesia, notably an Adam Air flight that crashed into waters off Sulawesi island on New Yearâ€™s Day, killing all 102 on board, and a flight of national carrier Garuda Indonesia that crash-landed at Yogyakarta airport in March, killing 21 people.
Under the ban, all 51 of Indonesiaâ€™s airlines are prohibited from flying into European airspace.
Minister Jusman Syafii Djamal said at a news briefing in Bandung following an air-safety conference with the EU in the West Java town that the government would swiftly work towards getting the ban lifted by speeding-up the process of ensuring airworthiness among certain airlines here.
“Indonesia will try to accelerate the revocation of the ban by proposing a fast-track program,” he said.
The carriers earmarked for the program are Garuda, Mandala Airlines, Premiair and Airfast.
“The four airlines (have been chosen because) we deem them to have the potential to enter Europe and also have cooperation with Europe,” Djamal said.
Heavily indebted Garuda at one time flew frequently to major European cities, but owing to falling passenger numbers, increased competition and a cash crunch, in recent years it stopped flying to Europe altogether.
The transport minister said, however, that the flag carrier was hopeful it could soon reopen its scheduled flights to Europe.
Floundering Mandala Airlines was given a new injection of blood last year, with an entire management overhaul, bringing in foreign airline executives to run the company and ordering a fleet of new Airbus airplanes.
Its new chief executive, Warwick Brady, told The Bali Times that new investors in Mandala had specified the important of safety and international standards.
â€œThe investors mandated that the new Mandala would comply with the highest international standards of airline safety and management,â€ said Brady, who has worked with leading European budget airline Ryanair and Indiaâ€™s flourishing Air Deccan.
Premiair, meanwhile, is a charter airline used by European countries. Airfast is another charter business based in Jakarta.
There were no immediate details from minister Djamal regarding what measures would be taken to accelerate the safety of the four airlines.
Officials from the European Union visited Indonesia late last year but said aviation standards were still not satisfactory. However, the European Commission’s head of aviation safety, Roberto Salvarani, said at this weekâ€™s press briefing that he was optimistic safety would improve to such a level that the ban could be withdrawn.
“We intend to … assist them (Indonesian airlines) in the implementation of the safety measures required. The implementation of these measures will hopefully lead to the lifting of the ban at a certain point in time,” he said.
Analysts say that the EU fligh ban harms Baliâ€™s vital tourism industry, at a time when it has emerged from the doldrums and is once again soaring.