Indonesia on Thursday threatened to retaliate against a European Union ban on safety grounds of all 51 of its civilian airlines unless negotiations resulted in a lifting of the prohibition.
The EU’s decision, which is due to come into effect on Friday, follows a move in April by the US Federal Aviation Authority to downgrade Indonesia’s safety rating, which amounted to a de facto ban on Indonesian airlines.
No Indonesian carriers currently fly to either Europe or the US. But Indonesia’s tourism industry believes the ban could cost it hundreds of millions of dollars if tourists cancel trips and decide to avoid taking domestic flights.
Budi Suyitno, the deputy transport minister responsible for aviation, on Thursday accused the EU of acting prematurely – citing countries like Australia, Hong Kong and Singapore which have not banned Garuda Indonesia, the nation’s flag carrier.
“This is not a technical matter. We think this is a political matter because we gave them all the data they requested before their safety commission met,” he said. “We would retaliate if, and only if, the EU does not engage with us. We want constructive dialogue, collaboration and cooperation.”
Indonesia’s transport ministry said Thursday night that the Dutch ambassador to the country had offered to mediate the dispute. But it is not clear if any mediation would work, unless Indonesia addressed safety concerns.
Michele Cercone, a European Commission transport spokesman, said the ban was made purely on safety grounds. “That’s the only consideration we take into account,” he said. “Retaliation would not help solve the problem, The only thing that will help is improving safety standards.”
The EU said it imposed the ban because of the FAA action and the latest International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) safety reports, which indicated “serious shortcomings with regard to the capability of the civil aviation authorities of Indonesia”.
It also said the Indonesian authorities “did not reply adequately and in a timely manner when concerns about [civil aviation] safety” were raised.
There have been several deadly plane crashes in Indonesia in the last year, including a Garuda jet which crashed on landing at Yogyakarta airport in Java, killing 21 people.
Peter Gibson, of Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority, said its inspectors had found “no significant safety issues” with Garuda aircraft in Australia. Hong Kong authorities said they had never encountered a problem with Garuda while Singapore said it regularly checked all aircraft entering Singapore and was seeking more information.
Roberto Gonzales, the ICAO president, said on Thursday during a visit to Indonesia that the EU move might have been misplaced. "Indonesia is taking the right measures [to address safety issues]," he said. "Maybe it's a problem of information and I hope with more information and more transparency we [will] know what you are doing."
More than 400,000 American and EU tourists who visited Indonesia last year flew domestically, according to the Indonesian Association of Tours and Travel Industry. They spent almost $200m, according to an extrapolation of data supplied by Visa International, the credit card company.
On Wednesday Angola banned British Airways in response to the EU banning TAGG Angola Airlines.
Additional reporting by Robin Kwong in Hong Kong