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Jakarta Post

Airlines look to cargo services to cope with passenger slump

  • Dzulfiqar Fathur Rahman

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, April 30, 2020   /   05:42 pm
Airlines look to cargo services to cope with passenger slump With a ban on passenger flights, low cost carriers such as PT Citilink Indonesia, PT Lion Mentari Airlines and PT AirAsia Indonesia, have pledged to utilize their aircraft and flight slots for cargo services, including to transport medical equipment. (Courtesy of Twitter/@Lufthansa_Cargo)

Indonesian airlines are focusing on cargo services to offset the losses incurred from the government’s temporary ban on passenger flights to slow the spread of COVID-19.

With the ban to last until May 31, low cost carriers such as PT Citilink Indonesia, PT Lion Mentari Airlines and PT AirAsia Indonesia, have pledged to utilize their aircraft and flight slots for cargo services, including to ship medical equipment.

Indonesian airlines are struggling for survival amid the COVID-19 pandemic, having booked a total revenue loss of Rp 207 billion (US$13.4 million) as of April 15, according to Finance Ministry data.

Citilink, which normally operates more than 330 passenger flights daily, currently ships goods through charter and regular flights to various cities within the country and to countries like China and Singapore.

“Citilink has been operating cargo flights to help with the distribution of supplies to several regions,” president director Juliandra said in a statement released Monday. “We apply disinfectant to the cabin and compartments to ensure the hygiene of the aircraft when delivering the goods.”

For its cargo services, Citilink utilizes its Airbus A320 and Airbus A330 aircraft, which have a 15 ton and 24 ton cargo capacity, respectively.

Meanwhile, Lion Air Group, the parent company of Lion Mentari Airlines, is also using its passenger aircraft for its cargo business, according to the firm’s strategic corporate communications head Danang Mandala Prihantoro. Lion Air previously served 630 flights daily,

“The Lion Air Group is using passenger aircraft because it does not have cargo aircraft,” Danang told The Jakarta Post via text message on Monday.

The full-service subsidiary of Lion Air Group, PT Batik Air Indonesia, previously used its Airbus 320 to deliver medical supplies, including more than 8,500 kilograms of medicines from China on April 20.

PT AirAsia Indonesia also announced on Thursday that it would focus its services on chartered flights for transporting COVID-19 aid and supplies, as well as helping with the repatriation of Indonesian citizens abroad.

Before the government announced the temporary ban on passenger flights, the airline industry had already been hard hit by the COVID-19 outbreak, with people choosing not to travel in compliance with physical distancing guidelines.

According to data from the Indonesia National Air Carrier Association (INACA), flight frequency had declined to just 20 percent of normal levels.

Despite efforts to ramp up cargo services, INACA data show that the volume of domestic and international airfreight in Indonesia had dropped 39 percent from the average rate.

Global freight demand had also dropped 15.2 percent by March compared to last year, while global capacity has fallen 22.7 percent, raising concerns about disruption to logistics, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) reported.

State-owned airport operator PT Angkasa Pura II has provided support to airlines by granting access to warehouse facilities via its subsidiaries PT Angkasa Pura Kargo and PT Gapura Angkasa to handle products purchased via e-commerce platforms and medical equipment. 

“At the moment, cargo shipment capacity is below normal levels, when there are many regular flights. But the current capacity is sufficient to maintain cargo traffic in general,” Angkasa Pura II president director Muhammad Awaluddin said in a statement on Tuesday.

Gapura Angkasa, which owns a more than 8,900-square-meter warehouse at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, has provided access to facilities like cold storage and animal storage facilities.

In the first quarter this year, the airport operator reported that its airports handled shipments of 62,000 tons of cargo per month, 68 percent of which was handled at Soekarno-Hatta airport alone. 

In 2018, Soekarno-Hatta airport, which has the largest annual cargo capacity of any airport in the country, managed shipments of 760,000 tons of cargo, exceeding its capacity by 26.6 percent.

In addition to Soekarno-Hatta airport, Angkasa Pura II, which manages 19 airports across the country, has also offered to manage cargo services at its other airports, including Halim Perdanakusuma in East Jakarta and Sultan Syarif Kasim II in Pekanbaru, Riau.

“If the cabin [in the passenger aircraft] can be used to store cargo, the loading and unloading process will be faster compared to storing it in the belly,” said Awaluddin.

With the airline industry experiencing a downturn due to the COVID-19 outbreak, the airport operator has slashed its expected annual revenue to around 70 percent of its initial target of Rp 12.8 trillion.