Garuda adds briyani, more flights to spice up its appeal

Garuda adds briyani, more flights to spice up its appeal

Indonesia's national carrier Garuda will start a 10th daily flight from Jakarta to Singapore from Dec 3, making it the carrier with the most flights on this competitive route.

To up its game on the route, it will also introduce, from next month, popular Singapore fare such as chicken briyani for economy-class passengers and rojak and ayam panggang (spicy-sauced grilled chicken) in business class.

Moreover, Garuda passengers arriving from Singapore and connecting on a domestic flight with over three hours in transit will be able unwind in a special lounge while waiting.

All these steps are being taken to find the "sweet spots" and edge out intense competition on this lucrative route, Garuda chief executive officer (CEO) Emirsyah Satar told The Straits Times.

The route is the world's fastest-expanding one where capacity is projected to double within the next decade. "The key is frequency," said the outgoing CEO, who leaves at the end of this year after 10 years at the helm.

In the short term, however, limited infrastructure and overcapacity are causing headwinds.

Indonesia AirAsia cut back two flights daily and Tigerair gave up its Mandala tie-up on this route this year. The low-cost carriers were hit harder due to a weaker rupiah that slowed outbound traffic from Indonesia.

"The Jakarta-Singapore market is a clear example of a route becoming oversupplied, as airlines were overly aggressive and ambitious," said the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa), a think-tank, in a report.

Garuda, itself, was forced to delay launching more international routes and pause plane purchases after posting losses for three consecutive quarters, due to a weakening rupiah that pushed up costs paid in US dollars, and lower demand due to the country's slowing economy.

However, as losses narrowed in the third quarter, and prices went up to take in the depreciating rupiah, plus a bump in air travel that led to a profitable September, it is hoping for a better ending to the year.

The airline has to find ways of locking in passengers, Mr Emirsyah said.

Its immigration-on-board service that has immigration officers approving visas on arrival in the aircraft after it has landed in Jakarta and Bali on selected international routes, has seen an increase in passengers from Japan, South Korea and Australia, he said.

With its new flight to Singapore, Garuda will have one more flight slot over Singapore Airlines' nine-times-daily flights, but the latter is still the route leader in seat share, said Capa.

Its chief analyst, Mr Brendan Sobie, says SIA leads because it uses widebody planes such as the Boeing 777 compared to Garuda, which uses smaller planes like the Boeing 737-800 on six out of nine flights.

Garuda's market share based on seats was 17 per cent in July to SIA's 35 per cent. The new flight should take Garuda's share in December to about 22 per cent.

Aviation analyst Shukor Yusof, however, says Garuda has to work harder to woo passengers on this intensely contested route.

"Many Indonesians are loyal customers of SIA, and I suspect, will remain so irrespective of what Garuda does. SIA retains its service edge," he said.

This article was first published on Nov 18, 2014.
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