Tuesday February 5, 2013
Batavia Air grounded for good
By YU JI
KUCHING: It is a sign of closure — literally.
Displayed at Batavia Air’s office, where the neon lights have been turned off, at Kuching International Airport (KIA) here is a sign that reads: “Closed”.
Next to the sign, printed on an A4-sized paper, were instructions for ticket refunds. The address and telephone number listed were based in Jakarta.
Inside Batavia Air’s office here yesterday were about half a dozen staff.
Despite the closed sign, the door was unlocked. The staff were friendly but they declined to be interviewed.
“We’ve not been told anything. We can’t speak. We’re so sorry. There’s a notice outside,” said one manager.
Sarawak Tourism Federation (STF) president Audry Wan Ullok told The Star it was with “great regret” that the industry accepted the news.
“I was in Indonesia on a visit with Sarawak tourism officials when the news came,” Audry said on Sunday at KIA.
“I don’t know what to say really. It’s just sad because now we have one less airline that flies into Sarawak.”
Batavia Air was an important link for the development of medical tourism for Sarawak, the federation chief said.
“Batavia Air gave us an edge over Sabah in terms of getting sick people to come to our hospitals in Kuching. Batavia Air could better accommodate sick people, including those on stretchers.”
MASwings, which flies daily to Pontianak, does not accommodate stretchers. (A MASwings official told The Star that the service was temporarily not available because the installation of stretchers would take two hours onboard its aircraft.)
“They closed because they were running at a loss,” said Samuel Chung, managing director of Straits Central Travel and Tour Agencies, which was the exclusive agent for Batavia Air in Sarawak for almost a decade.
“At its peak, Batavia’s Kuching-Pontianak flight was about 50% to 60% full. But then MASwings began the same route in April last year and Batavia’s load for that route dropped to between 20% and 40%.”
Chung said Batavia Air also suffered from increased competition from Pontianak- based operators.
“Right now, there are five airlines flying Pontianak-Jakarta. Batavia just could not keep up. There’s a lot of options, including those between Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta.”
Chung said it was unclear if all Batavia Air ticket holders would get their refunds.
“As a travel agent, I had a deposit of about RM3,000 with Batavia too.
“I’m also not sure if I can get it back.”
With Batavia Air gone from KIA, just five other airlines utilise the state capital’s airport namely, Malaysia Airlines (MAS), MASwings, AirAsia, Silk Air and Tiger Air.
Jetstar pulled out of KIA around the time when Tiger Air launched its Kuching-Singapore route while Firefly ceased operations to Sarawak and Sabah about a year ago.
Batavia Air used to fly three weekly flights from here to Pontianak and onwards to Jakarta.
In the middle of last week, Indonesia’s commercial court declared budget carrier Batavia Air bankrupt just months after AirAsia aborted a deal to invest in it, reported the Associated Press.
The Jakarta Commercial Court declared the company bankrupt after Batavia Air failed to pay a US$4.7mil debt. Flights stopped just after midnight last Thursday, the Associated Press said.
The airline began in 2002, and at its peak, flew to 48 destinations. Six destinations were international routes, including its stop at KIA. The airline also flew to Singapore and destinations in China, including Guangzhou.
According to the Jakarta Globe, passengers who purchased tickets with Batavia Air before the budget carrier declared bankruptcy and shut down last week, would still be able to use them after three airlines agreed to take over 20 of Batavia’s 42 routes.
The Indonesian newspaper said Citilink, a low-cost airline of national carrier Garuda Indonesia, was set to take over 14 routes. Mandala Airlines and Express Air would take over another six routes.
Although it is unclear at the moment, it seems routes to Pontianak would be undertaken by Express Air.