Indonesian airlines are finally cleared to fly to US after coveted safety upgrade is granted

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 2:23pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 August, 2016, 10:25pm

The US aviation regulator has upgraded Indonesia’s safety rating, clearing the way for its airlines to fly to North America after nearly a decade of being barred.

The Federal Aviation Administration said its assessment completed in March found that safety oversight by Indonesia’s civil aviation authority complied with international standards.

It said in a statement on Monday that the decision means Indonesian airlines that get necessary approvals can fly to the US and code share with US airlines.

Indonesia, one of the world’s fastest growing air travel markets, has had a bumpy safety record with numerous crashes of civilian and military aircraft and many near misses.

The US decision is a potential boost for national carrier Garuda, which is the Indonesian airline most likely to start regular flights to US destinations.

The Southeast Asian nation’s transport ministry said it received a letter from the US embassy saying Indonesia’s airlines had been elevated to “Category 1” status, granting US flight and code-share rights. The FAA had cut the rating to Category 2 in April 2007, citing serious concerns about the local civil-aviation regulator’s safety oversight and operational control systems.

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“This is an achievement we’ve been waiting for since 2007,” Suprasetyo, Director General for Air Transport at the ministry, told reporters in Jakarta. “There are several airlines that are ready to fly to the US.”

The higher rating holds out the prospects of lucrative new routes for Garuda, which returned to profit last year.

The upgrade came after the European Union scrapped a two-year flight ban on Garuda in 2009 and in June this year abolished restrictions on three other Indonesian operators - PT Lion Mentari Airlines, Batik Air and Garuda’s low-cost unit Citilink. Among the four, only Garuda has scheduled flights to Europe.

Among efforts to improve its rating, Indonesia opened a new terminal at its main airport in Jakarta this month to ease congestion and has also added structures and equipment to bolster airport safety.

“The efforts of the DGCA over the past year have demonstrated the commitment of the DGCA, the Ministry of Transportation and the Government of Indonesia to establishing a system of effective aviation safety oversight,” the US embassy said in its letter, referring to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the local regulator.

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A Category 1 rating means a nation’s civil aviation authority complies with international standards. Category 2 means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee its airlines in line with minimum international standards, or its civil aviation authority is deficient in one or more areas.

Several aviation accidents in recent years have left Indonesia with a fatal air-crash rate of more than three times the global average even amid the government’s efforts to improve transportation safety.

A shortage of skilled pilots, ground crew and air-traffic controllers as well as outdated equipment and planes have all contributed to the deadly accidents, including the AirAsia Flight 8501 crash in December 2014 that killed all 162 people on board.