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Garuda airline to launch Chennai, Indonesia direct flight from June

Special Correspondent

The new flight will help to boost trade ties, says Indonesia ambassador

— Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

BUSINESS MEET: Rizali W. Indrakesuma, Indonesia’s acting Ambassador to India (left), S. Vijaikumar Bafna, chairman and president, Hindustan Chamber of Commerce (standing), and Ruslan U Sitepu, Trade Counsellor, Indonesian embassy, in Chennai on Friday.

CHENNAI: Travelling to Indonesia could become much easier next month, when the country’s national airline Garuda’s maiden flight between Chennai and Medan is set to take off.

Indonesia’s acting ambassador to India Rizali W. Indrakesuma told Chennai businessmen on Friday that the new flight would strengthen trade and tourism ties between the two regions.

“The negotiations are in the final stages and we hope the flights will start in June or at latest July,” he said. Garuda representatives are still holding talks with Civil Aviation Ministry officials in New Delhi to ensure that they fulfil all technical criteria to start operations in India.

Speaking on the sidelines of an interactive session with city Chambers of Commerce, Mr. Indrakesuma explained that this would be the first Garuda flight to India since the economic crisis of the late 1990s forced the airline to cut its earlier flight to Mumbai.

Demographic make-up

Asked why the resumption of flights is starting with Chennai, Mr. Indrakesuma said that one factor was the demographic make-up of Medan, in northern Sumatra, which is home to a large number of ethnic south Indians with links to Chennai. Increasing economic relationships with southern India could also be a factor.

Mr. Indrakesuma expects the airline to operate daily flights and later expand operations to Mumbai and Delhi. He hopes this will also increase the tourist inflow from India, which was just over 84,000 last year. Currently, Indian travellers to Indonesia must fly via Singapore or Kuala Lumpur.

Garuda has earlier said that connecting flights from Medan will link Indian passengers to Jakarta and Bali.

The line could also be extended to Singapore, to cash in on the large market for Indian travellers to the city.

Bilateral trade up

On the economic front, bilateral trade has risen, touching more than $5 billion during January to October 2007. By 2010, the two countries aim to increase annual trade value to $15-20 billion, Mr. Indrakesuma said.

He suggested that the two countries explore trade opportunities in mutually beneficial products and technologies. “India is short on energy, while Indonesia has considerable energy in the form of coal and gas, which can be utilised on the basis of long-term contracts. On the other hand, India has a huge surplus of iron ore, while we are facing a shortage of this important material. This can be exported to Indonesia on a long-term basis, he suggested.

Coal mining and metals and machinery manufacture are among the top sectors for recent investment, with recent deals by Tata, Bajaj, TVS, Reliance and Jindal.

The biggest deal on the cards is still under negotiation, according to Mr. Indrakesuma. “Mittal Steel is in talks for a tie-up with our national steel company Krakatau Steel…They are discussing an investment of $10-15 billion,” he revealed.

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