Air Taxi: Solution to Traffic Congestion

The following data will show how acutely the public transportation system in Jakarta has been damaged today: in the past decade the number of motorized vehicles in Jakarta has grown by 6 percent annually. It would come as no surprise to someone who is familiar with the city that about 4.95 million motorized vehicles travel across Jakarta every day. Motorcycles make up 53 percent of this number. Next comes private cars with 30 percent, buses with 7 percent and trucks, 10 percent.

This condition has been worsened by the additional several million motorized vehicles that come from outside the city. The great number of motorized vehicles has led to serious traffic congestion on many roads across the city. One of the government’s attempts to solve the problem of traffic congestion is to lengthen the roads in Jakarta. In reality, however, this would not have much impact.

Lengthening the roads would only increase the mobility of private cars, and that is not part of an effort to build an integrated road network system. Some 85 percent of road space is used by private cars, which actually serve only 9.7 percent of (car) trips. Given the fact that the existing public transportation in the city far from provides comfort and security, it is understandable that so many people opt to use their private cars.

There are not enough air-conditioned buses in Jakarta, nor enough comfortable and safe taxis. That’s why, to meet the demands of the “premium” market, several car hire companies have started renting luxury cars.

Several taxi companies have also provided limousines. The largest taxi company in Jakarta, Blue Bird, for example, has long offered premium services. Its Silver Bird taxi service provides luxury sedans. Meanwhile, another taxi company, PT Centris Multipersada Pratama Tbk, is planning to add 500 Toyota Limo sedans to its taxi fleet, a program that will be implemented in stages up to the end of 2005. “This is in response to the market demand,” said Omar Dhani Hassa, its president director.

But don’t jump to the conclusion that riding in a limo in Jakarta guarantees comfort. Traffic congestion is a problem that affects everyone. One solution is air transportation. Several top executives in Jakarta have resorted to this mode of transportation. James Riady, the CEO of the Lippo Group, for example, has for the last decade used a helicopter, particularly when he visits the centers of his business activities in Lippo Karawaci, Lippo Cikarang, Bukit Sentul real estate and, also perhaps, Depok Town Square.

For James, and others with the means at their disposal, air travel means avoiding the potentially disastrous scenario of being late for a meeting due to a traffic jam. A chopper is an obstruction-free and quick transportation means. People who can afford to hire a chopper are willing to fork out more money just to save time, and to make sure they will continue to be highly mobile.

Indeed, the use of a helicopter as an air transportation means is a business opportunity. The chopper is the right choice for those who need to travel often and be on time. A chopper, for example, can transport four to 13 passengers at one time. As for landing and take-off sites, there are no fewer than 24 heliports on the roofs of tall buildings, such as hotels, on which helicopters can land.

A heliport is a vital facility for air transportation, particularly in major cities. Outside Jakarta, such as Bekasi, Karawang, Cikarang and Tangerang, particularly in factory areas, there are also landing facilities for helicopters. Of course, air taxi fares are high at between US$750 and 1,000 per hour, given the fact that a helicopter may cost some US$3 million.

Despite this, however, air taxis have regular passengers such as executives wishing to visit their factories or hospitals that need to air-lift patients to other hospitals. During the 1999 general election, there was an increase in the demand for air taxi. Politicians, like former People’s Consultative Assembly chairman Amien Rais, used an air taxi to get from one campaign venue to the next.

Despite its great potential, only a small number of aviation business players in Indonesia operate air taxis. There are several reasons for this: the high hourly rent, the tight regulations imposed on this particular business and the lack of regulation of its routes by the central government. One of the air transportation companies is PT Helizona. Another such company is Airpacific, whose base camp is located in Lippo Karawaci, Tangerang.

“As a residential settlement area and an office zone, Karawaci needs alternative transportation that links it with Jakarta,” said Budhi Achaddian, the director. Starting its operation in 1996, Airpacific now owns three Bell 407 helicopters, each of which can carry six passengers, excluding the pilot.

Every day, Budhi said, there is always a passenger that hires their helicopter. Formerly belonging to the Lippo Group, Airpacific can take passengers for at least four to five trips a day. When a foreign investor, for example, visits a company in Jakarta and can only stay in this city for a very short time, then hiring a chopper may be the best choice, especially if this guest needs to visit several places.

If you hire a chopper, you can take him or her from the airport to the pick-up point of the Airpacific helicopter. From this pick-up point you can fly to anywhere you wish, going to four or five places before the investor returns home. While the air taxi business may be a potentially lucrative one, it is quite difficult to operate a helicopter rental company. It must be remembered that maintenance costs can eat up 90 percent of rental fees. That is why air taxi operators in the capital have not booked any significant growth. And with little growth in the number of passengers, the air taxi business has failed to attract many investors.

In addition, it is difficult to obtain an operational license as an air taxi provider. Companies cannot simply start operating helicopters as air taxis; there is a licensing process that must first be completed. Only companies with an Air Operation Certificate (AOC) are allowed to get into the business. The international-standard AOC can be revoked at any time if the helicopter operator fails to fulfill the set standards, for example, if it fails to protect the safety of its passengers.

That is why there are only a few air taxi companies in the country. Besides Helizona and Airpacific, the other air taxi companies in Indonesia are Indonesia Air Transport, which owns eight helicopters, Derazona Air Service, which operates eight choppers, and Pelita Air Service, which owns 15 helicopters.

Derazona Air Service and Pelita Air Service do not confine themselves to spot charters or ad-hoc charters, i.e. the sort of on-demand charters usually associated with air taxi services. These two companies concentrate on scheduled flights on a long-term contract basis. In the case of Pelita Air Service, although it usually carries state officials, including the president and vice president, it also has oil and mining companies as regular clients.

It is true that air taxi services have yet to take off in Jakarta. In the meantime, special regulations governing the air taxi business, including technical provisions on the types of helicopters that can be used and their routes, have yet to be drafted. There is also the need to designate special flight lanes and establish open spaces for landing purposes, as you have in the United States. (Arif T. Syam)

The Jakarta Post, October 25, 2005

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