Sriwijaya Air eyes resumption of full operations after securing maintenance services from Garuda

Eighteen out of 30 Sriwijaya Air planes have been grounded by the Transportation Ministry since last week over airworthiness concerns. PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - Indonesia's private airline Sriwijaya Air, which had more than half of its fleet grounded, hopes to gradually resume full operations, after it secured maintenance services from national carrier Garuda.

Eighteen out of 30 Sriwijaya Air planes have been grounded by the Transportation Ministry since last week over airworthiness concerns.

On Tuesday (Oct 1), Sriwijaya Air and national carrier Garuda renewed their management cooperation agreement that will allow the former to send its aircraft for maintenance at Garuda's subsidiary Garuda Maintenance Facility (GMF) AeroAsia.

The services are also available to Sriwijaya's low-cost carrier subsidiary NAM Air.

Sriwijaya Air's quality, safety and security director Toto Soebandoro told The Straits Times on Wednesday that the group has been able to access the services at GMF AeroAsia, which focuses on maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) business. This might allow its flights to return to the original frequency, he said.

But he noted that the operation "will likely be adjusted" based on the airline's ability and needs.

Sriwijaya Air, which operates flights within Indonesia and to China, Malaysia and Timor Leste, reportedly saw its daily number of flights falling from 245 to around 120.

The latest problem has emerged amid financial woes in the airline, which is owned by domestic tycoon Chandra Lie.

As of June this year, its debt to Garuda and GMF stood at US$118 million (S$163 million) and US$52 million respectively.

It also held liabilities to other state-owned companies, such as oil and gas giant Pertamina and airport operators Angkasa Pura I and Angkasa Pura II.

In November last year, Sriwijaya Air inked a management partnership agreement with Garuda Group, which would help enhance both its operational and financial performance.

This cooperation allowed Garuda to control a majority share in Indonesia, a fast-growing and lucrative aviation market. It also helped Sriwijaya turn its financial loss into profit in the first quarter of this year.

But the partnership turned sour after Sriwijaya shook up its top management in early September, affecting executives representing Garuda. Garuda later removed its logos from all Sriwijaya fleet, citing difference in service standards. GMF also withdrew its services to Sriwijaya.

In late September, Mr Toto, in a leaked internal letter, recommended that Sriwijaya stop its operations until it can improve its safety standards. This was similar to what the Transportation Ministry would later decide based on factors such as a lack of engineers as well as tools, equipment and spare parts for proper maintenance of its fleet and an absence of maintenance by any MRO provider.

Last week, the aviation authority gave the airline five days to sort out its safety and security issues and threatened to totally halt its operation on Wednesday if the problem is not solved.

Transportation Ministry's Airworthiness and Aircraft Operation director Avirianto said on Tuesday that as Sriwijaya's maintenance of its fleet is now guaranteed by GMF, the authority will not stop the entire operation of the airline.

GMF president director Tazar Marta Kurniawan said that the company will assess the airworthiness of all Sriwijaya fleet on a daily basis.

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