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Jakarta Post

Aviation industry sees setback in recovery amid PSBB, public fears

  • Mardika Parama

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, September 21, 2020   /   05:10 pm
Aviation industry sees setback in recovery amid PSBB, public fears Put to the test: Passengers line up for rapid tests at Terminal 3 of Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Banten, on Wednesday. Domestic travelers are required to present tickets and negative test results prior to departure. (JP/Dhoni Setiawan)

Indonesia’s air passenger and traffic rebound saw a setback in September amid the government’s large-scale social restrictions (PSBB) and low public confidence to fly during the COVID-19 pandemic, the country’s aviation industry players have said.

State-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura (AP) II recorded a 2.6 percent decline in passenger movements at the 19 airports it manages during the first two weeks of September compared to the same period in August. That follows a strong rebound between June and July.

AP II president director Muhammad Awaludin said on Sept. 17 that the PSBB policy in various regions continued to affect the aviation industry despite efforts by airport operators to reassure passengers by implementing strict health protocol.

In response to the continuous rise in COVID-19 cases, which reached 240,600 on Sunday, The Jakarta administration has reimposed the PSBB in the capital in a measure that took effect on Sept. 14.

“We understand that there are effects of the PSBB policy on the aviation industry. We initially saw a strong rebound between May and August, but the growth rate started to flatten since August,” Awaluddin said during an online discussion held by the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association (INACA).

AP II data show that monthly passenger movement surged 466 percent month-to-month (mtm) in June, as the government lifted the Idul Fitri mudik (exodus) travel ban that had led to a sharp drop in air passengers in May. The uptrend continued in July with 135 percent mtm growth.

However, the passenger growth rate slowed to 35.5 percent mtm in August, before contracting in the first two weeks of September.

Read also: AP II pins hope on domestic market, expects faster recovery

The continuous rise of COVID-19 cases in Indonesia has depressed the aviation sector, as people cancel travel plans amid restrictions and border closures.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) expects the global number of air passengers to drop 55 percent year-on-year (yoy) in 2020. That figure marks a downward revision from an April forecast of a 46 percent decrease yoy in air passengers this year.

The IATA also now expects a full recovery of global air passenger traffic only by 2024, a year later than its initial estimate, given slow virus containment in developing economies, among others.

Fellow state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura (AP) I president director Faik Fahmi said air traffic at the 15 airports under its management in early September was also lower than expected, at 47 percent of the normal rate, while the passenger movements figure was 28 percent of the pre-pandemic level.

“[The air traffic] and passenger numbers are below our expectations as the public’s confidence in using air transportation remains low,” he said at the same event. “We need a great communication strategy to rebuild public confidence.”

Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi, speaking at the same discussion, urged the aviation industry to use alternative ways to promote air travel, such as online influencers to revive public confidence and boost passenger numbers.

“We have to allocate funds and efforts to promote [the aviation industry’s] safety measures using new ways, such as 'endorsers'. Airports have implemented strict health protocol, but currently not everyone is convinced,” he said.

The ministry’s air transportation director general, Novie Riyanto, echoed the minister’s statement, saying the industry needed to do more to convince the public regarding the safety of air travel, as both the airlines and the government had implemented strict health safety standards.

A survey released by AP I in July found that 84 percent of 500 respondents were erring on the side of caution and taking a "wait and see" approach toward embarking on air travel due to the perceived risk of COVID-19 transmission during flights.

In addition to the fear of COVID-19 transmission, the high cost of rapid and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, a requirement for air travel, also dampened people’s interest in flying. As many as 78 percent of the survey respondents said they hoped air travel costs would come down.