Thu, 03 Jul 2003

Garuda reopens flights to some Asian cities

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Flag carrier Garuda has resumed or brought back to normal flights on a number of routes in Asia that had been suspended or had their frequencies reduced following the recent outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The carrier made the move just in time for the summer holidays and amid regional euphoria over the lifting of the World Health Organization's travel advisories to some of the worst-affected SARS areas.

The reopened routes are Surabaya-Singapore and Denpasar- Singapore (both once a week), Medan-Singapore (4 times a week), Denpasar-Osaka (twice a week), Jakarta-Shanghai (twice a week), Jakarta-Guangzhou (three times a week), and Denpasar-Nagoya (twice a week).

Routes where flight frequencies have been brought back to normal are Jakarta-Singapore (7 times a week), Jakarta-Hong Kong (6 times a week), Denpasar-Jakarta-Tokyo (7 times a week), Denpasar-Osaka (2 times a week), and Denpasar-Seoul (3 times a week).

Garuda has also opened a new route between Surabaya and Kuala Lumpur, with three flights a week being scheduled.

Asian destinations are important markets for Garuda. The Japanese head the top of the list of foreign travelers to Indonesia, while China, to which Garuda has opened new routes, is considered another major potential market for the Indonesian tourism industry.

The flag-carrier, like most other carriers in the world, suffered a heavy blow thanks to the outbreak of SARS at a time when the airline industry had yet recover from the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S., the Oct. 12 Bali bombings last year and the war in Iraq earlier this year.

At the peak of the SARS epidemic, Garuda's daily load factor to and from the countries affected by the disease -- Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Vietnam -- dropped to 60 percent from 80 percent prior to the outbreak of disease.

With 80 percent of its total flights being international, the situation had a major impact on Garuda's finances, and forced the company to put on hold its plan to lease 12 new aircraft.

The latest data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) shows that foreign tourist arrivals in May plunged 38.59 percent to 222,486 compared to the same period last year.

The BPS also said that the number of international passengers had declined by 18.84 percent to 1.58 million from the previous year.