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March 7, 2013

Garuda Rising

By Chris Boyle

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park

Bromo Tengger Semeru National Park, East Java

The Garuda may be a mythical bird-like creature, but for many years the national airline of Indonesia that borrows its name was more of a turkey.

An old fleet of planes and schedules kept on paper made the airline one to avoid. Of course that was the past.

Enter former banker Emirsyah Satar, Garuda President and CEO, who has turned the airline’s fortunes around – it has now achieved many years of four-star rankings by Skytrax.  Last year Garuda collected 63 awards, including 19 international awards. In January Skyscanner awarded Garuda best in-flight catering. Its 106-airplane fleet today is under six years old. Revenues in 2011 exceeded $3 billion. Weekly flights are poised to grow from the current 3,000 level to over 8,000 by 2015 when the fleet will reach 194 aircraft. Annual passengers carried will grow to 45 million from 17 million in 2011.

Using the slogan, “Good is not good when much better is expected”, Satar is now plotting for Garuda to spread its wings with more long-haul flights. Taking away the hassles of long immigration lines, Garuda has a program in place where passengers clear formalities aboard their flight. The service is now offered on flights from South Korea, Australia and Japan, but Satar told Elite Traveler he wants to expand the popular offering.

With a turnaround well in place, Satar is also planning to rebuild Garuda’s long-haul network. Its four weekly flights to Amsterdam via Abu Dhabi will go to six times. A code sharing arrangement with Etihad will bring 13 more European cities online.

The big news however comes in November when Garuda launches nonstop London-Jakarta flights with new Boeing 777-300ERs. While many airlines are getting rid of First Class, Garuda will add an eight-seat section with individual suites. With a total of ten long range aircraft joining the fleet through 2015, Satar told me more European cities will be getting nonstop flights to Indonesia, and it’s possible North America will also come back on to the route map.

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