Mardika Parama, Jakarta – Many people remain reluctant to fly amid lingering fears of COVID-19 and concerns about travel costs, a survey by state-owned airport operator Angkasa Pura (AP) I has found.
The AP I survey found that 84 percent of the 500 respondents were erring on the side of caution and were taking a "wait and see" approach, mostly because of the perceived heightened risk of COVID-19 transmission during flights.
The results of the survey come despite the government laying out strict health protocols for the aviation industry. The protocols were stipulated in Transportation Ministry Circular No. 13/2020 and cover mandatory procedures from pre-flight to post-flight to reduce the risk of virus transmission.
"We need to pay special attention to [consumers'] level of confidence. Airports needs to demonstrate compliance with the health protocols," AP I president director Faik Fahmi said on Wednesday during an online webinar held by The Habibie Center.
The low level of consumer confidence is a major challenge for the already struggling aviation industry, which has been battered by the pandemic as people canceled travel plans due to travel restrictions.
Domestic air passenger numbers saw a steep 98.3 drop in May, falling to 87,000 from 5.3 million in May 2019, according to Statistics Indonesia (BPS). The number of international air passengers also dropped more than 99 percent year-on-year (yoy) in May to 11,700 passengers.
However, AP I recorded around 394,000 passengers in the first 10 days of July, a huge increase from around 222,000 passengers in the first half of June and 76,000 passengers in the entire month of May.
To address the passengers' concerns, Faik said the company, which manages 13 airports across the country, planned to digitize airline passenger check-in procedures to minimize person-to-person contacts.
In the AP I survey, 68 percent of respondents said they favored online flight check-in to avoid contacts with airport staff, while 76 percent said they would feel more comfortable using digital customer service at airports.
"The role of technology has become crucial to meet our customers' desires," he said.
In addition to the fear of COVID-19 transmission, the high cost of rapid and polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, a requirement for air travel, has also dampened people's interest in flying. As many as 78 percent of the survey respondents said they hoped air travel costs could be reduced.
"A lot of our customers complained about the high prices of rapid tests. While the Health Ministry has set a price ceiling of Rp 150,000 [US$10.25] for the test, in reality the price is much higher," Faik said.
The Health Ministry issued on July 6 a circular that set a price ceiling of Rp 150,000 for COVID-19 rapid tests, following numerous complaints over high prices.
Earlier this month, Transportation Minister Budi Karya Sumadi has also asked the Finance Ministry to subsidize rapid tests for public transportation users.
Several Indonesian airlines have also taken initiatives to drive up air travel demand by providing free or low-cost COVID-19 testing for their passengers.
Airlines under Lion Air Group, namely Lion Air, Wings Air and Batik Air, are offering rapid COVID-19 testing for passengers, with prices starting from Rp 95,000, the company's spokesperson Danang Mandala Prihantoro said in a statement in June.
Meanwhile, national flag carrier Garuda Indonesia service and business development director Ade R. Susardi emphasized on Wednesday the importance of restoring consumer confidence in the aviation industry.
"We are now trying to increase our passengers numbers by convincing people that it is safe to fly. With a rising number of passengers, we can boost our cash flow," Ade said.
Garuda Indonesia currently has an occupancy rate of around 40 percent, he said.