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Indonesia's Deepening Aviation Crisis

Quick Action by Indonesian Authorities Defers Threat by Saudi Arabian Government to Ban Garuda Flights to Jeddah. A report from Indonesian Digest.

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Ibu Wuryastuti Sunario, Editor of the Informative Indonesia Digest, provide the following summary of the current state of play in Indonesia's growing aviation crisis.

Minister for Religious Affairs Prepared to Stop Haj Pilgrimage Should Saudi Arabia Ban Indonesian Airlines

In response to a threatened ban by Saudi Arabia to follow the EU's footsteps and impose a ban on Indonesian airlines from flying into Saudi airspace, Minister for Religious Affairs, Maftuh Basyuni told that he was prepared to stop sending all Indonesian pilgrims to the Haj this year should the policy be enforced. Surprisingly, reports that this policy has the support of the Haj Association, as well as notable Members of Parliament. Nonetheless, Minister Basyuni hopes that this action will not come to pass when the Saudi government reviews its present stance by making its own audit and becomes convinced of Garuda Indonesia's safety record.

Last year Garuda Indonesia carried some 103,000 pilgrims on the Haj, a number expected to increase to 105,000 this year. Between January-May 2007, Garuda Indonesia carried some 115,000 passengers on the Saudi route utilizing 320 flights, said Kompas. Most of these were passengers going on a small pilgrimage outside the haj season (Umroh) and overseas workers. Garuda Indonesia is the official carrier for the Indonesian Haj, with a lesser number being carried on Saudi.

Meanwhile, Garuda Indonesia Operations to Jeddah Reported "Normal"

On July 16, 2007, Garuda issued a press release confirming that all of its Monday flights had operated normally, refuting rumors that Saudi Arabia had banned Indonesian airlines with immediate effect. Garuda spokesman, Pudjobroto said that GA-9802 flying Jakarta-Jeddah using B747-400 left at 11.35 a.m. carrying 241 passengers. Similarly GA 980 flying on the same route left Jakarta at 16.30 with 236 passengers on board.

Garuda Indonesia operates 8 flights weekly to Saudi Arabia, with 5 weekly flights between Jakarta-Jeddah and 3 flights weekly between Jakarta-Jeddah-Riyadh-Jakarta.

During April-September 2007, which is the peak season for travel to Saudi Arabia, Garuda has added two flights per week on its Jakarta-Jeddah return route to serve those going on Umroh and to transport overseas workers. This July, Garuda has added four extra flights per week to meet peak demand.

A ban by Saudi Arabia would certainly represent a considerable blow to Garuda Indonesia as well as to the Indonesian majority Muslim public, making the situation different from the European ban, where Garuda has suspended its European flights since 2004 with hopes to re-open that route in 2008.

On Tuesday morning, after reporting the situation to President Yudhoyono, Minister for Communications, Jusman Syafii Djamal negated ongoing rumors, that the Saudi ban has already been enforced.

Minister Djamal informed the press that Saudi Arabia was requesting clarifications from Indonesian authorities and that a ban was not yet in place. His Department had received communications from the Saudi General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) stating that following the decision by the European Union to impose a ban on Indonesian airlines to fly into EU airspace due to safety concerns, the Saudi Government was urged to follow in EU's footstep.

Nonetheless, considering the close relations between Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, Saudi GACA has asked Indonesia for clarifications first, prior to its enforcement of any ban. Foreign Minister, Hassan Wirajuda said that Indonesia appreciates this gesture, and an advance team is being sent to Saudi Arabia to fix an early meeting with GACA to explain safety measures taken by the Government and invite GACA to audit Indonesian airlines for themselves.

Indonesia-Saudi Arabia Authorities to Meet Early August, with EU End July

In the latest development, spokesperson for the Department of Transportation, Bambang S. Ervan said that GACA has confirmed that the organization would send an expert team to Indonesia in early August to personally check the safety of Indonesian airlines as well as receive the latest information on measures undertaken by the Government to improve Indonesian aviation safety. In the interim, Garuda continues normal operations. As far as the Haj pilgrimage flights are concerned, Garuda must meet all of GACA's requirements for haj flights, reports Bisnis Indonesia.

As regards the EU ban, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda said that Indonesia will meet the EU delegation on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers meeting in Manila, Philippines at the end of July. thanks Ibu Wuryastuti Sunario for this report taken from Indonesia Digest.

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