Airline Startup Of The Week: Super Air Jet In Indonesia

A key figure in Indonesia’s aviation scene is looking to startup a new airline. Rusdi Kirana, the founder of Lion Air, is the man behind a proposed Indonesian airline, Super Air Jet. There’s already one plane, but further information on operations and any start dates remain sketchy.

The founder of Lion Air is starting up a new airline. Photo: Getty Images

Indonesia, the world’s fourth most populous country, normally has a vibrant commercial aviation scene. With other 17,500 islands making up the country, airlines are critical for connectivity. On the flipside, Indonesia’s commercial aviation sector has a sometimes poor reputation for safety and regulation.

The best known Indonesian airline is flag carrier Garuda Indonesia. But the country also supports many other airlines, predominantly low-cost carriers like Lion Air. Rusdi Kirana set up Lion Air in 2000, and it went up to become the biggest privately-owned low-cost airline in Indonesia. Lion Air’s subsidiary brands now include Batik Air, Malindo Air, Thai Lion Air, and Wings Air.

Despite the spotty information available on Super Air Jet, Lion Air’s history of incubating startup airlines means you cannot discount this effort. Here’s what we know so far.

Rusdi Kirana and some unnamed associates have leased a former IndiGo A320ceo. That plane is registered to Super Air Jet as PK-SAJ. Where Super Air Jet plans to fly to and when remains unknown.

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So far, one plane & not much else on Super Air Jet

There’s also no word on whether Super Air Jet would be a low-cost, middle-market, or full-service airline. However, Mr Kirana’s normal operating environment is the low-cost arena with occasional excursions into the mid-market sphere.

Now might seem like a challenging time to startup an airline. But the airline industry is awash with optimistic cashed-up adventurers – think Andrew Levy’s Avelo Airlines and Colombia’s Starblue Airlines.

As with most other airline markets, Indonesia’s international and domestic passenger traffic plummeted last year. Passenger numbers have since recovered from their 2020 lows. However, they remain some way off 2019 levels and not expected to fully recover until 2024.

As an example, the most recent statistics released by Garuda Indonesia cover February 2021. Passenger numbers were down 79.8% against February 2020. Passenger loads on operating flights averaged 21.7%, down 46%.

Indonesia’s busiest airport, Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta Airport, is now seeing almost 600 flight movements a day, well up from the sub 100 flights a day nadir in 2020 but still about a third less than seen this time in 2019.

Is Super Air Jet a chance to break away from a tainted Lion Air brand? Photo: Airbus

Is Super Air Jet a fresh start for the Lion Air founder?

International arrivals in Indonesia remain at a virtual standstill. Recovery of that sector will take longer than Indonesia’s domestic airline sector. Undoubtedly, Indonesia is a tough market to fly in right now and an even tougher market to startup a new airline.

But Rusdi Kirana is a smart operator. Lion Air has a mixed reputation, and some pundits suggest Super Air Jet is an attempt by Mr Kirana to capture passengers who wouldn’t normally choose to fly on Lion Air.

Outside Indonesia, Lion Air is best known for its ill-fated Boeing 737 MAX 8 flight. On October 29, 2019, a Lion Air MAX 8 flight carrying 189 passengers and crew crashed into the sea just after takeoff. All onboard died. Much (but not all) of the blame for that crash was attributed to problems with the plane’s Manoeuvring Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS).

With a tainted Lion Air brand, Super Air Jet could offer Rusdi Kirana a fresh brand to build up. It may also be a matter of an experienced airline operator jockeying to capture market share as travel demand continues to recover across Indonesia.

Indonesia’s airline sector has never been dull. What do you think the prospects of Rusdi Kirana’s Super Air Jet are? Post a comment and let us know?