The writing was on the wall. When Air Asia (Both AK and QZ) announced that it would serve Semarang, I thought to myself, how long will it be before they stop flying to Solo?
|Solo Adi Sumarmo Airport - New terminal, but Air Asia is leaving it behind.|
(Photo by: Pizzaboy1 under Creative Commons)
Indonesia Air Asia stopped serving Solo ages ago, leaving only Malaysia Air Asia to serve this Central Java city from Kuala Lumpur. Then, Indonesia Air Asia started serving flights from neighbouring Jogjakarta, to Jakarta and Singapore, whilst Malaysia Air Asia started serving Kuala Lumpur.
After both the Indonesian and Malaysian Air Asia opened flights to Central Java Provincial capital Semarang, this month, Indonesia Air Asia opened flights Bali-Jogjakarta, and Malaysia Air Asia announced that it will stop serving Solo.
The tourism industry in Solo, was obviously not happy. From 02 September, Singapore's Silk Air will be the sole scheduled international air link for the city. The Solo Tourism Board has asked Air Asia to rethink it's decision, citing the massive investments it made in promotions will simply go up in smoke.
Let's look at the factors:
Air Asia's consideration:
Air Asia would not close a route if the numbers (passenger yields) were good. Solo's load factor (let alone passenger yields), fluctuate and the route isn't as profitable as the Jogjakarta routes.
Jogjakarta is a bigger market. The proximity of Jogjakarta from Solo, is always going to be a challenge for Solo Airport. Both cities are claimants to be the "center of Javanese culture." Historically, both cities were always at competition with each other, and each cities' royal houses, are bitter rivals (to the extent that the house of Jogjakarta was spun off from the Solo house after a bitter war in the 1800s).
The world famous Borobudur temple is just up the road from Jogjakarta, and the fastest way to get there from Solo is, via Jogjakarta.
The Jogjakarta Sultanate Palace, is a functioning palace. The Royal Family still use it, and still functions as a pseudo-seat of government for the Jogjakarta province (although the real business of modern day government is seated at other facilities). One can easily guess which palace is better kept and more attractive for tourists.
The other famous temple, Prambanan, is located between Solo and Jogjakarta.
Semarang's tourism market, is rising and is better located for attractions on the north coast, and has good land access to Jogjakarta.
So, tourism wise, which is a better market?
Jogjakarta has a better business market than Solo. For the Central Java province, the business market is focused at Semarang, leaving Solo with mainly the tourist market.
The majority of the business activities in Central Java is distributed amongst the northern coast (which is served by Semarang), and the Semarang-Jogjakarta land corridor, whilst Jogjakarta also serve the business market of the southern coast of Central Java thanks to its location.
Future Prospects for Semarang and Jogjakarta
The current economic resilience of Indonesia means that airline business pax traffic is also picking up. This means better yields. Semarang and Jogjakarta are aiming to capture this. Semarang has planned a massive expansion of it's airport, where a new terminal on the north side of the runway will replace the currently tiny civilian terminal barely capable of handling more than 5 jets at a time. Jogjakarta's current airport is cramped, but expansion is being made to expand the apron and adding a taxiway to improve runway flow volume. But Jogjakarta isn't stopping there, they're planning a new airport which will be able to meet the demand growth.
Flights to Semarang and Jogjakarta, are more frequent than to Solo, making these two cities much more attractive than Solo. Jogjakarta boasts being the only Indonesia airport currently armed with a rail link, which serves both Jogjakarta AND Solo.
The odds are truly stacked against Solo.
Is there hope for Solo?
Yes, of course. But unless it acts correctly and quickly, it will be left behind.
|Front Facade of Solo's new terminal built in the 1990s, opened in 2009|
Solo's advantage is its new terminal, only a few years old. But, the city government needs to look at the airport as a business incentive tool, and not a cash cow. The local governmental stakeholders there, are Solo city government, and the Boyolali municipal government. The latter, has decided to slap a levy in addition to the passenger service charge.
Such a simple thing, but this leaves a sour taste to the passengers going through Solo Airport. This "additional levy" is collected separately. Semarang and Jogjakarta airports, don't have this.
As air traffic grows allover Indonesia, eventually, more airports will spring up, or airports in a neighbouring and competing city will improve. City and regional governments must begin to look at the airport as a tool, and not a cash cow.
On the market catchment area, it needs to look east. There are no civilian airports between Solo and Surabaya. This is an untapped market for air transport. The airport stakeholders need to start figuring out how to realize this potential, they just can't sit and wait. Right between Solo and Surabaya, is the city of Madiun, home of what was once Indonesia's largest aerodrome and now Indonesia's biggest military airbase. If we look at the experience of Malang (south of Surabaya), which is enjoying an economic boom after the airbase there opened up to civilian traffic, what's stopping the Air Force from deciding to open up Madiun to civilian traffic (although currently this is extremely unlikely)? When that happens, Solo Airport's market will only shrink further.
But if Solo and it's airport continue to think like THIS ARTICLE, they should save themselves trouble and quit now.