Has post-ban Garuda mended its ways?

Garuda's CEO says people will see for themselves how the airline is performing.
Garuda's CEO says people will see for themselves how the airline is performing. 

Six years after the Garuda crash in Yogyakarta that killed 22 people, including five Australians, the carrier's president and chief executive officer is asking Aussies to trust the beleaguered airline again.

Emirsyah Satar says Garuda has mended its ways and that it has lifted its safety and service standards beyond its dark days that included a ban on the airline flying into European air space between 2007-2009.

"We are meeting IOSA safety standards just like all the other top airlines and have just been given certification for another two years," he told Fairfax Media. (The IOSA rating is a global best-practice standard for flight operations, aircraft maintenance and safety management systems).

Garuda data shows that its 2012 incident rate fell to its lowest level in a decade, with 0.288 incidents per 1000 departures.

A new Australian independent airlines rating web site (airlineratings.com) has also given Garuda a cautious thumbs up with a safety rating of five stars out of a possible seven.

According to our own surveys, the safety of Garuda is less and less of an issue for Australians

The site, which lists 425 airlines, says the Indonesian carrier has made significant improvements in safety, training and in-flight product.

Nevertheless, it is still short of the seven-star safety ratings of Qantas, Virgin Australia, Singapore Airlines, Jetstar and China Eastern. It is, however, better rated than the likes of AirAsia and Tigerair.

"According to our own surveys, the safety of Garuda is less and less of an issue for Australians," Mr Satar says.

"It takes time for these things, but the survey results are a good sign. All we can do is let people see what Garuda is doing with safety, great service and new planes and to let the results speak for themselves."

Mr Satar was speaking at the recent launch in Jakarta of Garuda's flagship aircraft, the 777-300ER, part of a major upgrade by Garuda which has a goal of "becoming one of the best airlines in the world".

In total, Garuda has ordered 10 of the big planes, worth about $US150 million each.

The first two have started flying between Jakarta and Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, and on November 2 another two will start flying five-days-a-week on a new Sydney-Jakarta-London route.

The introduction of the 314-passenger 777-300ER also reintroduces first-class to the airline which abandoned its premium cabin in the mid 1990s because of the Asian financial crisis.

The first-class section has eight suites with fully flat beds and closing doors, a chef on board preparing Indonesian and Western dishes, wi-fi that allows access to internet and social media, a limousine service (in Jakarta only), and an airport personal assistant and butler.

There are 38 business-class seats on the Garuda-configured 777-300ER that convert into fully flat beds and 268 economy seats in a 3-3-3 layout that feels spacious and has a seat pitch of 32 inches.

The airline's fleet has been revitalised over the past few years and the average age of its planes is 5.8 years which, Garuda boasts, compares to Qantas's 10.2 years.

The revitalisation is part of a program called "Quantum Leap", a five-year expansion plan that started in 2009 and includes new planes, better service and extra routes that aim to boost Garuda's passenger numbers from 10 million a year to 27.6 million.

The program has reaped rewards already with the airline picking up some honours in the highly regarded Skytrax Awards at the Paris Air Show earlier this year.

It was named as the world's best economy class, won the award for the world's best economy class seats and was ranked eighth in the world's top 10 airlines (beating Qantas at number 10).

In 2012, it was voted best regional airline in the Skytrax awards.

Garuda now has 112 planes in the air and 45 weekly flights from Sydney, Melbourne and Perth to Jakarta and Denpasar. Daily flights from Brisbane to Denpasar will start next month.

But the question remains whether the new planes, the awards and better service will be enough for Australians to overcome their safety concerns.

Robert Upe travelled to Jakarta for the launch of the 777-300ER as a guest of Garuda.

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