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Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s busiest airport

Luc Citrinot, eTN  Feb 17, 2011

JAKARTA (eTN) - Singapore media have been keen to recently celebrate Singapore's Changi Airport newly-established record in 2010. The home base of Singapore Airlines reached an historical high last year by recording 42.04 million passengers, up by 13% over 2009. Singapore newspapers have, however, been slightly more discreet about another important milestone. Changi is down to the third rank in Southeast Asia, as Jakarta Soekarno Hatta International Airport (CGK) climbed to become the region’s busiest airport, even surpassing Bangkok Suvarnabhumi International, which last year set a record of 42.78 million passengers. According to official data released by the airport’s authority, Angkasa Pura, Jakarta CGK received 43.7 million passengers last year, up by 17.7% over 2009. On average, passenger traffic has grown by 15% every year since 2008.

The fact that Jakarta has now become Southeast Asia's busiest airport is only fair. Jakarta CGK is, in fact, the main air gateway to the fifth largest population in the world, with over 235 million inhabitants. With rising purchasing power due to its strong economy – GDP was up by 5.9% in 2010 - there is an increasing number of Indonesians able to travel. The Indonesia Ministry of Tourism, in cooperation with the Indonesia Central Office of Statistics, revealed that passengers on Indonesian airlines saw a new passenger record. According to the Indonesia Central Office of Statistics, passengers on Indonesian domestic routes rose to 43.7 million people in 2010, up from 35.6 million in 2009 (+22.7%), while passengers on international routes jumped from 8 to 9.6 million last year (+20%). It is estimated that air seats capacity at Indonesian airports increased on average by 26% last year. In 2010, 14.7 million seats were available on international routes with Indonesian authorities expecting this number to increase by 9.9% to 16.17 million in 2011.

Beyond numbers, there are major differences between Jakarta CGK and both Suvarnabhumi and Changi airports. First, the type of passengers traveling from both airports are different. Singapore remains Southeast Asia’s biggest international gateway, as it has by definition no domestic traffic. Bangkok international passenger traffic reached almost 33 million last year, or 77% of total traffic. In Jakarta, international traffic represented 20% to 22% of total passengers, the equivalent of 9 million travelers.

But the biggest difference is to be found in the standards of infrastructure offered to passengers. Jakarta CGK has probably one of the most charming airports of Southeast Asia, with the design of both terminals 1 and 2 inspired by Javanese traditional pavilions surrounded by gardens. But both terminals were designed to accommodate 18 million passengers. Terminal 3 - opened in 2008 mainly to accommodate budget airlines passengers - adds another capacity for four million. With twice the number of its planned theoretical capacity, the three terminals are suffering from heavy congestion. This is a massive difference, with Singapore Changi and its airy terminals conceived for 60 million passengers or even Suvarnabhumi, which comes close to its theoretical limit (45 million). While both Bangkok and Singapore have a dedicated rail system to the city center, Jakarta has been announcing for over ten years an express rail connection... with no result so far.

Being the busiest Southeast Asian airport does not mean it is world-class for Jakarta - at least for the time being. The government now realizes that it will have to speed up investments if it wants to be able to sustain the expected growth in passenger traffic in the years to come. Under a program called "World Class Airport," which will cover development until 2016, Angkasa Pura II will upgrade facilities. This April, work on the expansion of terminal 3 will start with the possibility of welcoming some 20 million passengers by 2012/2013. Another infrastructure – Terminal 4 - is due to start in 2012, with an additional capacity of 20 million passengers. Plans are to revive building up the dedicated rail link from Jakarta city center to the airport. By 2016, total capacity will then be approximately 60 million passengers. There are even talks for a third airport in the region. And best of all, there is money to improve the situation: Japan recently signed an agreement with Indonesia to fund transport infrastructure in and around Jakarta at a cost of US$31 billion.

Jakarta becomes Southeast Asia’s busiest airport

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