“Short on Pilots, Government turns to Civil Servants to Fill Gap.” This was an actual newspaper headline in an Indonesian national newspaper on May 3. For anyone worried about Indonesia’s air safety record following the crash of the Lion Air jet in Bali a few weeks ago, you will be glad to know that these civil servants will not be trained as commercial pilots, but flying instructors.
As a tourist coming to Indonesia the question of air safety should be a big concern. After all, the country is made up of lots of islands, so the only real way to get anywhere quickly is to fly. So how safe are the countries airlines?
There are a total of 16 scheduled commercial carriers operating in Indonesia. The main ones at you are likely to use are as follows; Garuda Indonesia (the national carrier), Lion Air, Sriwijaya Air, Air Asia, Citylink and Merpati Nusantara. The airline that most recently hit the headlines for crashing a brand new Boeing off Bali is Lion Air, which is also the same airline that ordered 150 brand new planes from Boeing and 234 planes from Airbus.
Almost every one of Indonesia’s commercial carriers are seeing huge grow in passenger numbers. As a result of this growth and in expectation that more people will be flying with them, most of these companies are expanding and have plans or already are buying new planes. This should be great news for passengers flying in Indonesia as new planes are a) comfy b) quicker c) more fuel efficient and so hopefully cheaper for you the passenger.
While the airline industry is definitely growing rapidly in terms of airplane numbers, human resources are falling well behind, which gives you headlines like the one above. To put it simply it is not just pilots that Indonesia is short of, but also qualified engineers, ground crew and even air traffic control operators. The whole system, which has not been built on the strongest foundations, is basically struggling to keep up with the ambitions of the airlines.
Both the huge number of planes that Lion Air recently bought and the recent crash off the coast of Bali give you an idea of the state of the Indonesian aviation industry. These companies have big ambitions, but what they don’t have is a good safety record to go with it. Only one of these airlines (Garuda) has clearance to fly above the skies of Europe. Put simply there is a long way to go.
As a traveller visiting Indonesia, you will probably never experience any major problem when using a local carrier. What you will almost certainly find though is that you face significant delays. This is something that all travellers need to think about when booking flights, especially if you have a connecting flight you need to catch.