The aviation industry has experienced a huge set-back due to the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. How is the industry managing this challenge and finding measures to rise above adversity? We hear from Denon Prawiraatmadja, Chairman of Indonesia National Air Carriers Association (INACA) about the answers he and his colleagues are seeking.
How is our current aviation industry while Indonesia is still in the process of combating Covid’19?
Let me give some insight about our mindset first. The transportation industry, on land, sea, and air, is an industry that supports the economy, so it is not merely a pure business. Run well or not, increase, or decrease, the transportation industry depends on economic growth itself. With this pandemic, our economic activities are severely hampered. So how can we hope to recover the aviation industry? First, we need to restore the economy itself by overcoming this health crisis.
For an archipelagic country like Indonesia, it is not easy to regulate how it can stop the spread of Covid-19 but distribution for logistics, then travel for people whose activities are essential, such as paramedics and those associated with sending people who help in infrastructure development, communication etc. must continue. The government has made regulatory adjustments so that non-essential activities can be stopped but essential activities can be carried out.
That is what the government did last year, including prohibiting mudik (homecoming) during the Lebaran season. I didn’t say mudik is not important, it is but it is not essential. In that regard, I think the government has been very successful in being able to regulate what is essential and what is not essential, as evidenced through the Minister of Transportation Regulation NO. 41 regarding the regulation on the prohibition of mudik. So in May and July, the number of people conducting flight activities was very minimal, only tens of thousands of people throughout Indonesia, not the usual millions.
What is the Safe Travel campaign about?
The aim of the Safe Travel Campaign is to provide confidence to the public that air transportation is safe with the new health protocols, but not to stimulate people who are not supposed to fly to do flight activities. The campaign is not merely inviting people to vacation, but the campaign gives an understanding to the public that for people who feel it is important to do flight activities or travel out of town, that air transportation is safe, from the airport, on the plane, to the destination. That is what INACA did with all of its members.
(Aviation technology in terms of regulating clean air in the cabin has reached a level that can guarantee air quality in aircraft. IATA has issued a statement that the High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) technology installed in aircraft guarantees it effectively and is able to capture 99.9 percent of the microbes that are carried into the aircraft cabin. With this technology, the air circulation process in the cabin is renewed every two to three minutes.)
Is the campaign effective to get public trust?
If we want to examine it more deeply, what can make people return to normal life again is when the Covid-19 case rate decline has occurred. This means that the control of the spread of Covid-19 carried out by the task force is correct. That’s where people’s trust can be 100% restored. So that means, the task force, in this case the Ministry of Health, we don’t need to convince the public with various kinds of campaigns. The main thing is to build public trust by controlling the number of Covid cases first.
What strategic collaboration is INACA doing?
We have had a lot of discussions and submitted suggestions to the government, not only to the Ministry of Transportation but also to the Ministry of Economy, the task force, and others. Airline members have implemented many proposals, including the Safe Travel campaign, it was also carried out collaboratively. What is important for us now is that in these conditions we can adjust our operational costs according to existing demand. I could say that the demand has decreased by around 70% compared to 2019 if I look at the of whole in 2020. The role of the government is very much in line with what airline members are doing to save the national aviation industry.
What are your plans for the future?
We are currently conducting a study that in April we will release a kind of official INACA White Paper regarding the projection on when the number of passengers can return to 2019 levels, around 100 million passengers a year.
We will process data sources and linkages with vaccine distribution, regulations from the Ministry of Health and others so that INACA can release approximately when the national aviation industry can return to pre-covid levels. What is INACA doing that for? So that our members (there are 36 INACA members consisting of 11 scheduled airlines, 23 unscheduled airlines and 2 cargo) can use it as a guide to amortise the unpaid fees in 2020.
Your biggest concern for Indonesian air transportation?
I think the airlines need help in restructuring debts and adjusting operating costs. 2020 was indeed a difficult year for all sectors including the aviation industry. The years 2021, 2022 and beyond are a period in which we must gradually rebuild. Of course, one of the efforts that can help the recovery effort is by repaying these costs or receiving assistance in paying these costs.
So, I think there are two main thoughts: this recovery process must get a stimulus and the distribution of vaccines which are very important in order to stop the spread of Covid-19 can be resolved immediately so that socio-economic activities can move on. At present, the government has responded very quickly to what the industry needs because the community needs the air transportation industry, especially in sending logistics throughout Indonesia.