Asia news

E&T reports from south east Asia.

EU lifts Garuda airspace ban

The European Union (EU) has lifted the ban on Garuda and three other Indonesian airlines entering its airspace.

The state-owned national flag-carrier, along with Mandala Airlines and cargo operators PremiAir and Airfast Indonesia, will now be able to resume flights to the 27-nation bloc.

EU ambassador to Indonesia Julia Wilson said the country has made significant improvement in aviation safety, and hinted that two low-cost carriers, Air Asia Indonesia and Lion Air, might also be taken off the blacklist in the near future.

Dian Wirenjurit, Indonesia's director of intra-regional cooperation for Europe and the US, told E&T that the EU wants Indonesia to revamp its policies and regulations to EU standards, and has agreed to lift the ban on more Indonesian airlines when new regulations are in place.

The ban was imposed on all 51 Indonesian carriers in April 2007 after a string of air disasters involving aircraft of low-cost carrier Adam Air and Garuda. In the same year, the US watchdog Federal Aviation Administration downgraded Indonesia's civil aviation rating from Category I to Category II.

Eleven of the 51 airlines have ceased operating, either pushed out by stiff competition or having their air operating certificates revoked by the Ministry of Transport in Jakarta.

Indonesia's Minister of Transport Jusman Syafii Djamal greeted the lifting of the ban with delight, but said the ban on Garuda should have been removed last year, as the airline had invested a huge sum of money to provide enhanced training for its staff.

"There is no question about the maintenance and safety of the Garuda fleet," Jusman said.

A relieved Garuda is already planning to fly to Amsterdam in the third quarter of 2010 initially using the Airbus A330-200, which would require a stop in Dubai for refuelling. The service will be operated non-stop from 2011, when Garuda starts taking delivery of ten Boeing 777-300ER aircraft that it ordered in February 2008.

Garuda spokesman Pujobroto said Amsterdam will be the first European destination for the airline to resume flights to, as there is a big market. Indonesia was a former Dutch colony.

Flights to Frankfurt will be resumed in early 2011. Garuda stopped flying to Europe in 2004 after a major restructuring.

Privately-owned Thai low-cost carrier One Two Go, a subsidiary of Orient Thai Airlines (OTA), has also been taken off the blacklist.

The EU was said to have wrongly banned the airline from flying to Europe last year after the airline's MD82 aircraft overshot the runway on landing at Phuket International Airport on 16 September 2007, coming to rest against a tree and killing 80 of the 123 passengers and crew.

The European Commission had received a notification from Thailand's Department of Civil Aviation that One Two Go was operated by OTA.

DCA deputy director general Wutichai Singhamanee said OTA was not banned by EU so One Two Go, which is operated by a parent company that complies with EU's standards, should not be blacklisted.

Bakun dam to go live in 2011

Construction of the Bakun hydroelectric dam in the east Malaysian state of Sarawak is expected to be completed in August 2011 and will start distribution of electricity before the end of the year.

The dam will have eight turbines installed with a capacity to generate 2,400MW of electricity.

Using a high-voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line, the plant will export 1,600MW to Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia). The remaining 800MW will be for Sarawak.

A 730km HVDC transmission line and a 670km undersea cable to connect the plant with Peninsular Malaysia will be constructed. These are expected to cost the government US$2.6bn. The work will be financed by loans sourced by Tenanga Nasional Berhad (TNB), the state power agency.

According to Loo Too Gee, the deputy secretary general of the Ministry of Energy, Green technology and Water, construction of the transmission line and cable-laying project is being worked on.

Bakun is currently owned and constructed by Sarawak Hidro, which is owned by the Ministry of Finance Inc, an investment arm of the Ministry. In February the Federal government gave the green light for TNB and Sarawak Energy Berhad to jointly take over the operation of Bakun from Sarawak Hidro.

Loo said the takeover will be executed through a leasing agreement which is currently being finalised. The joint partners will develop the transmission system from the site to Peninsular Malaysia.

The leasing agreement will also cover the sale of electricity to Peninsular Malaysia and Sarawak.

Bakun is the second-highest concrete-faced rockfill dam in the world. It will have a reservoir surface of 70,000 hectares. The project's promoters say it will be emission-free and have zero impact on global warming. [new window]

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