Indonesia is the world’s largest island country with approx. 17 thousand islands. With the boom of low-cost airlines and overall economic development, many domestic travellers shifted from sea transport to faster and more comfortable air travel.

As a result, together with growing international tourism, Indonesia’s air traffic jumped from 27 million in 2009 to 88,6 million in 2015 (an almost 330% increase, according to the World Bank). And it keeps growing.

[On the image: thousands of Indonesian islands, night view, by Google]

South-East Asian lion

Albert Tjoeng, a spokesperson for IATA Asia Pacific, says: “Indonesia is expected to be the 5th largest passenger market in 2035, from 10th in 2015, with a market size of 242 million passengers.” IATA also expects that by then the aviation industry will support 8.8 million jobs and $99 billion of GDP.

In addition, Indonesian aviation will contribute at least another $30-40 billion to the global economy by ordering new airplanes. For instance, as of summer 2016, the country’s largest market players – Garuda Indonesia and Lion Air Group – together with Indonesia AirAsia, Sriwijaya Air, Kalstar and smaller airlines had a backlog of over 650 aircraft.


And even though the amount of future deliveries is far behind the region’s tiger – China which, according to Bloomberg, ordered almost 800 aircraft in 2015 alone – still, Boeing, for instance, sees “tremendous growth in the Indonesian commercial aerospace market”.

Similar expectations are shared by Airbus, Embraer and other OEMs.

In a 2015 report, Tony Tyler, IATA’s Director General and CEO in 2011-2016, said that Indonesia’s aviation has a huge potential, adding, however, that the country lacks leadership which would ensure the flourishing of the aviation sector.

“Indonesia needs an aviation masterplan based on global standards and developed in partnership by aviation stakeholders including the government… [and] it must be followed by real actions,” said Tyler in his keynote address at the IATA Aviation Day in Jakarta.

[On the image: Ground handling staff at Adisucipto Airport, Yogyakarta, Indonesia, by Budi Nusyirwan]

Civil Aviation (Dis)Organization

Shukor Yusof, an aviation expert and owner of an aviation consulting company Endau Analytics, agrees that Indonesia lacks a focused approach on the civilian aviation sector. According to him, the Indonesian government needs to provide more funds and show stronger political will in such areas as upgrading airports, training aviation professionals and being more stringent on safety.

IATA’s spokesperson for Asia Pacific Albert Tjoeng adds: “The expected market growth, as well as the social and economic benefits, is by no means guaranteed. The infrastructure – both airport and air traffic control – needs to have the capacity to handle the expected growth. Having trained personnel to support the expected travel demand is equally important.”


When it comes to personnel, the never-ending shortage of experienced pilots and engineers is by far neither the only nor the largest issue for the Indonesian aviation. The under-staffed Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) poses a much more serious danger, with the government simply not having enough hands and eyes to supervise airlines, training providers, MROs and other organizations that it licenses.

Years of poor supervision, together with other factors, led to a dangerous situation when some market players were training (and other – employing) under-qualified staff which, in turn, operated according to unclear rules and standards.

Shortcomings in local regulations, under-developed infrastructure, poor self-control of many local market players, as well as the overall vagueness over who is responsible for the development of local aviation – substantially contributed to distressing statistics.

Statistics which show that over the past 15 years the country suffered almost 40 fatal accidents and over 100 incidents, according to Aviation Safety Network data. In comparison, since 2001 neighboring Malaysia had only a couple of accidents and less than a dozen of incidents.

[On the image: 101 passengers and 7 crew evacuated from Lion Air' s Boeing 738 after a crash on Bali, April 2013, by Basarnas]

Re-meeting the standards

In October, 2016 Indonesia failed to be elected for a three-year term to ICAO Council (even though being supported by 96 out of 191 member states). Had it succeeded, Indonesia would have used its role as Council member to lobby other countries for support in reclaiming control over a part of its airspace currently managed by Singapore, some experts believe. But the loss in the election signals that many countries still doubt Indonesia’s ability to contribute to a safer aviation.


However, according to ICAO’s latest data, published in 2016, the situation over Indonesia’s civil aviation is improving, albeit slowly. Despite the fact that the country still remains below the world’s average in all 8 key areas (as seen in the figure below), the country’s Civil Aviation Organizational rating grew from below 20% to 26.67% since previous check.


On 15th August, 2016 the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration announced restoring Indonesia’s Category 1 rating which the country lost in 2007. According to FAA, for almost ten years, Indonesia either lacked laws necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or its CAA was deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping, or inspection procedures. But following an assessment in early 2016, FAA found that Indonesian DGCA made substantial improvements in terms of safety oversight.

Moreover, in June, EASA announced removing Lion Air and its subsidiary Batik Air, as well as Garuda Indonesia’s subsidiary Citilink from its blacklist. As a result, today already seven Indonesian carriers, including Garuda Indonesia, Airfast Indonesia, Ekspres Transportasi Antarbenua, Indonesia Air Asia, operate in accordance with international safety standards.

The reversal of Indonesian aviation towards safer and more reliable operations would not be possible without the pressure and, at the same time, support from the international community, including IATA, ICAO, FAA and EASA.

But the most important contributor to the changes is the political will expressed by the country’s leadership after yet another aircraft accident.

For instance, in May 2016, the Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla in his interview to CNN Indonesia acknowledged that local civil aviation faces various problems and challenges caused by the insufficiency of infrastructure and under-qualified staff.

Same year, during a press conference, the President of Indonesia Joko Widodo said to have encouraged the Minister of Transport “… to continue improving the safety and quality of flight service.”

Verbal support from the Indonesian President is being supplemented by a major bureaucracy reform that has been running several years now. In addition, Suprasetyo, Head of Indonesia‘s DGCA, said that his organization plans to eliminate or at least simplify regulations which limit the industry‘s further development. For instance, he wishes to allow foreign investments in Indonesian airlines, airports and flight academies.

[On the image: DGCA Chief inspects Kualanamu Airport, Medan,
July 2016, by Indonesia’s Ministry of Transport]

Julian Bray, an aviation analyst based in the UK, suggests that the Indonesian government still has a lot to do and, among other things, be far more open and communicate its aims and objectives to a world stage and be willing to engage with opposition or others who have a contrary view.

Once international business is satisfied with the progress, inward investment flow into the country is assured. These investments will support the government’s initiative to build 15 new airports, extend runways in 27 existing airports, as well as renovate terminals in 13 airports.

Moreover, international business will bring not only funds, but competence as well, thus helping the country in cultivating a new generation of aviation personnel which not only meets, but also stand for global safety standards.

But considering the specifics of South-East Asia’s largest country, all existing achievements may be lost and future potential not realized, if Indonesia’s political leaders don’t stay focused on the vital support for its civil aviation industry.