Garuda's London non-stop 777 has kangaroo route potential
In the mid 90s Indonesia decided it wasn't in the business of subsidising rich Australian kids going back packing in Europe with cheap Garuda flights. But maybe it is coming back for a second go at the kangaroo routes, not forgetting Bali of course.
Although there is no sign yet of an official announcement, a web site with links to a general sales agent in the UK for Garuda is reporting that the Indonesian carrier will start non-stop flights between London and Jakarta in October.
Garuda has however spoken about such flights in broad terms during a media briefing in November, which is probably more than enough reason for Qantas-Emirates and Virgin Australia-Whomever we like to think about where this might lead.
Which obviously includes in the nearer medium term, the probability of Garuda offering via connections at Jakarta, one stop flights between its Australian city services and London, as well as Amsterdam, which is an important city in its own right for Indonesian travellers.
It is true that Indonesia faces huge problems, especially today, when Jakarta and its main airports, are directly or indirectly in flood crisis.
But there is an economic lift off underway in the nation of 240 million or more immediately to our north, and when we read reports about massive orders for hundreds of 737 MAXs and a forthcoming deal for similar numbers of Airbus A320 NEOs they are a pointer to what happens when a country spread over a huge archipelago decides en mass to fly between the islands rather than take large ferries.
Garuda’s proposed use of new 777-300ERs configured with only 234 seats would certainly capture the attention of many travellers unimpressed with the higher density formats many airlines use in the big Boeing, especially with a ghastly tight fit 10 across economy layout.
The Indonesian cabin plan is even more generous in terms of space than Singapore Airlines 777-300ERs with a total of 278 seats, compared to closer to 400 in Emirates 777s. This doesn’t seem to be related to flight length either. Jakarta-London could come in at 14 hours 30 minutes, which is about the same duration as Sydney-Dubai flights.
The last time Garuda was a participant in the kangaroo route market was in the late 80s to early 90s, when together with the Soviet Union version of Aeroflot (up until the USSR’s collapse), it had a reputation for being a price leader in the economy market for what were very long multi-stop flights.
However a change in policy for the government owned carrier became apparent in the mid 90s with Jakarta briefing various travel industry writers that Indonesia wasn’t in the business of subsidising the travel habits of rich Australian kids with cheap rides to Europe, or words to that effect.
The focus on Australia became what Australian tourism could do for Indonesia, and not on Australians using Indonesia as a rest stop.
Fast forward to today and things have changed. Jets can economically fly non-stop both ways between Jakarta and the major cities of western Europe. Australia is a weak, and weakening player in long haul air services. While there is no doubt that levels of business and leisure travel between Indonesia and Australia are climbing, and would remain the prime focus of Indonesia’s carriers, the Australia-Europe market is probably one it won’t totally ignore.
As business and inter-governmental and student/worker travel grows between Indonesia and Australia, the potential for Jakarta and other Indonesian centres to compete with established hubs like Singapore and Hong Kong for services into emerging markets in the Mekong delta states and within China will look more attractive.
This is an idea that tends to get sneered at in the rest of Asia too, but if we look at the initiatives taken in investing in Indonesia carriers by Singaporean and Malaysian interests, it is obvious that this potential is strong enough to attract serious money.
All of which adds to the reasons why Qantas and Virgin Australia will have people who are studying what happens in Indonesia very closely.
Ben Sandilands has reported and analysed the mechanical mobility of humanity since late 1960 - the end of the age of great scheduled ocean liners and coastal steamers and the start of the jet age. He’s worked in newspapers, radio and TV in a wide range of roles as a journalist at home and abroad for 56 years, the last 18 freelance.