Indonesia’s 230 airports are as active as the ones serving its capital, and sadly busy in the same proportions. The 25 Indonesian airports managed by state-owned company PT Angkasa Pur (which includes the country’s busiest such as Surabaya, Jakarta, Makassar and Bali Denpasar) handled 111 million passengers in 2010, although their combined capacity barely reached 58 million. Bali airport is running at twice its capacity but the in progress-expansion will make it ready to handle 20 million passengers in 2017 – versus 14 in 2012. That would make it ready to cope with the growing traffic until 2017, officials said. The capital of Sumatra North Medan also saw its situation changing for the best in 2013 when its new Kuala Nanu International Airport finally opened. The former Polonia airport closed last July while it was handling 8 million passengers for a capacity limited to 1. Indonesian airlines did not wait long before jumping on it, mainly for its most valuable asset: room.
Yet, despite having a brand new and roomy airport, a key item has been forgotten. The airport’s only road connection to the city is tortuous and tiny, because no road extension have been included to the project. Medan though is the first airport of the country to have rail transport integrated, even though the capacity is low. “Kuala Namu was meant to be a showcase, reassuring foreign investors and Indonesians frustrated by decades of under-investment in roads, airports and power plants” The Financial Times reports (Infrastructure failings clip the wings of Indonesian airport - FT.com ), “But instead, it has become a potent symbol for the poor planning, land acquisition problems and lack of co-ordination that have undermined the drive for progress with many other crucial infrastructure developments across Indonesia”.
In the coming year, 45 airports are to be built or relocated, including 24 airports by 2017. 14 airport extensions and several involving the country’s busiest will be completed by 2015. Yet, the figures given for Bali Ngurah Rai’s expansion point to other hidden issues. Indeed, with a 15% growth, Bali is expecting to handle more than 24 million passengers in 2016. One could wonder why an airport that has just been expanded would still lack capacity even before it is completed. A possible explanation that as a matter of fact stands for many airports in the country is the lack of available land to expand. For instance, Lion group had to set up maintenance facilities in nearby Singapore because “there is no space in Jakarta”.
The current expansion plans look like an emergency response to the overcrowding situation. But nevertheless, it will be hard to get out of years of under investment, lack of leadership and delays. Jakarta’s first extension, which should be completed next year, would raise its capacity to 62 million in 2015. Assuming a 15% growth, Soekarno would see its traffic rising from 58 million in 2012 to 88 million in 2015. In other words, even if the expansion is completed on time, Soekarno would struggle to handle 40% more passengers than it should when 2015 is here.
Contrarily to other countries, such as China which plans infrastructure investments far ahead, Indonesia has not succeeded to update its aviation infrastructure and is now doomed for overcrowding. The demand is simply growing too fast for infrastructure to keep up.
It is now more than ever urgent to change. ASEAN is poised for open-skies in late 2015, and the number of flights in Indonesia is very likely to increase by then. On the other hand, infrastructure is not only crowded but experience safety issues, as shown last August when a cow was hit by a Boeing 737 on a runway in Gorontalo airport. The aircraft consequently skid off the runway. And with most of Indonesia's airlines blacklisted in the European Union, Indonesia has been criticized for the poor efficiency of its civil aviation authority when it comes to safety checks, partly due to its lack of resources. “You can imagine that with traffic increasing by 20 percent a year for the last five years and you have less than 200 safety inspectors? What do you expect?”, president of the Indonesian transportation society said. And Lion 904’s crash in Bali last year was Lionair’s 6th landing accident of the decade, mostly blamed on poorly trained pilots. And with air traffic radar systems also running at twice their capacity, in a country where weather is strong and fast changing, who knows what could happen next.
“The importance of the airline industry to Indonesia’s economy is massive”, analysts say. While the government attempts to create an environment to democratize air transport through liberalization and increased competition, these efforts are meaningless if there is not enough room for flights to land safely.
This is part 2 of 2 in a series written by Generation Y and focused on airports in Indonesia. In part 1, we looked at Jakarta airports.