Garuda Indonesia set to make London airport switch after securing Heathrow slots

Garuda’s plans to introduce non-stop flights to Europe have been restricted by limited runway capacity at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, with the pavement classification number (PCN) of the runways and apron at Soekarno-Hatta Airport not meeting the required level of strength that is typically needed for the operation of a full capacity, heavy duty commercial airliner such as the Boeing 777-300ER.

Garuda Indonesia is close to formalising a move across London and the introduction of flights to Heathrow Airport from spring next year after reportedly securing a pair of slots at the heavily congested hub airport. It has not yet confirmed if it will switch its existing Jakarta – London route, which operates via Amsterdam in both directions from Gatwick Airport, but the acquisition will support its longer-term plans to introduce direct flights between the two capital cities in the future.

The Asian flag carrier first revealed in early 2013 its intent to expand its flights to Europe with the resumption of air services to the UK following its successful reintroduction of flights to Amsterdam in June 2010. The aim was to start a direct flight between Jakarta and London from the final quarter of that year, the first non-stop scheduled air link between Indonesia and the UK using its new Boeing 777-300ER airliners.

However, after twice delaying the launch of a proposed non-stop link between Jakarta and London, the new SkyTeam entrant revealed in March 2014 during Routes Asia in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia that it would instead serve the UK capital with a one-stop strategy via Amsterdam from September 2014.

Garuda Indonesia first started serving the UK market in the mid-1980s as the terminus point on existing services to other points in Europe. A dedicated London operation was introduced from Jakarta in October 1992, via Abu Dhabi while a Bangkok stop was added to the itinerary in subsequent years and flights were also offered from Denpasar. In October 1997 the London operation was suspended for a two year period but resumed from November 1999 on the Denpasar – Bangkok – London routing and latterly via Singapore. The airline departed the UK market in May 2003, leaving Amsterdam as its only European destination, a route which was eventually closed in October 2004.

During its former operation to the UK, Garuda Indonesia utilised Gatwick Airport as its London gateway and it is no real surprise it selected the airport for its return to this market given the current capacity constraints and limited slot availability at London Heathrow.

But, according to a report by CAPA, Garuda Indonesia has now acquired a pair of evening slots from an unnamed carrier at London Heathrow from the start of the 2016 summer schedule. While these are far from ideal to support its global schedule and will provide limited connectivity options via Jakarta across Asia and Australasia, it will open the door to growth opportunities at Heathrow.

Garuda’s plans to introduce non-stop flights to Europe have been restricted by limited runway capacity at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, with the pavement classification number (PCN) of the runways and apron at Soekarno-Hatta Airport not meeting the required level of strength that is typically needed for the operation of a full capacity, heavy duty commercial airliner such as the Boeing 777-300ER.

To operate at full capacity serving direct, non-stop flights between Jakarta and London, while carrying 314 passengers and a maximum take-off weight of 30 tons of cargo, the Boeing 777-300ER requires a PCN of 132 tons, according to Garuda operational calculations but Soekarno-Hatta’s runway has a PCN of just 120 tons.

“In order for Garuda Indonesia to still make the flight to London, there would have to be a restricted take-off weight of 329,365 kg, which would mean a reduction in the number of passengers by 39 people and a loss of the ability to carry cargo,” said Emirsyah Satar, then President and Chief Executive Officer, Garuda Indonesia, ahead of the launch.

“Garuda Indonesia would also be unable to fly directly to London. Consequently, the implementation of this flight, with these conditions, in this competitive world of air travel, would have a serious effect on the operational and business requirements of this route,” he added.

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This restriction has also impacted the airline’s current flights to Amsterdam with outbound services to Europe operating via Singapore. This routing may also be introduced should the carrier introduce direct flights to London in the future using its new Heathrow slots ahead of the expected completion of runway works in the Indonesian capital in 2017.

The existing London service acts as a tag via Amsterdam limiting its appeal, although Garuda does benefit from holding fifth freedom rights within Europe to offer passage between Amsterdam and London, a market its management describes as providing better than expected traffic levels and helping to sustain the tag leg.

Analysis of Sabre demand data shows that the United Kingdom was the second largest market in terms of O&D demand between Jakarta and Europe in 2014, just ahead of Germany. London Heathrow was the third largest single source or destination market in Europe to/from the Indonesian capital, supported by indirect flights from the likes of Emirates Airline via Dubai, Singapore Airlines via Singapore, Qatar Airways via Doha, Etihad Airways via Abu Dhabi and Malaysia Airlines via Kuala Lumpur.

Garuda’s return to Europe in 2010 helped stimulate O&D demand on its initial route between Jakarta and Amsterdam and passenger numbers have grown since that year, increasing 16.1 per cent in 2014. In the first six months of this year the Amsterdam market is up a further 7.7 per cent versus the same period last year, while demand into the London market has actually fallen 2.3 per cent, despite the introduction of the London Gatwick tag.


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