Indonesia’s Medan poised for international growth as new airport opens, led by AirAsia and Lion Air


The Kuala Namu International Airport outside Medan opened on 25-Jul-2013, becoming the least congested major airport in Indonesia. Medan currently only has six international routes and is served by only six foreign carriers, five of which come from nearby Malaysia and Singapore. But Kuala Namu has the potential of becoming a major international hub in response to growing demand from the local market, which has a catchment area of over 10 million people, and from transit traffic as infrastructure constraints at Indonesia’s other major airports worsen.

Garuda Indonesia, which opened a domestic hub in Medan earlier this year, has postponed international expansion from the airport. But Garuda will inevitably relook at opening international routes at Medan and using it as an alternative to Jakarta for domestic-to-international and even international-to-international connections.

Meanwhile, other Indonesian and foreign carriers will take advantage of a rarity in Indonesia – a spacious airport that is not operating above capacity. LCCs, which already account for over 70% of domestic and international capacity at the new airport, are particularly well positioned given that Medan does not have the business traffic profile of Jakarta.

Medan’s old airport, Polonia, badly needed replacing

Kuala Namu International Airport (KNO) replaces Medan Polonia Airport (MES), an ageing and cramped facility near downtown Medan that has been used for nearly a century. All airlines and commercial flights moved to Kuala Namu after midnight on 25-Jul-2013, leaving Polonia open only for general aviation traffic.

Polonia had the capacity to handle only about one million passengers per year and there was no space for expansion due to its very central location. Polonia was operating at about eight times its designed capacity, which is not unheard of in Indonesia, where about three-quarters of the top 20 airports are currently operating at above capacity.

Figures from airport operator Angkasa Pura II show that Polonia handled 7.2 million passengers in 2011, an increase of 31% compared to 2009. Traffic at Polonia reportedly grew by about another 9% in 2012 to 7.9 million.

Medan Polonia Airport annual passenger traffic: 2008 to 2012

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New terminal is already at capacity but there is ample space to grow

Kuala Namu has an initial design capacity of 8.1 million annual passengers. As a result the airport terminal is already operating at capacity.

The fact the airport is opening at near its initial design capacity reflects the long process in the planning and construction of the airport. Construction began in 2006 when traffic levels at Polonia were less than half the current level. But there is ample space for growth and terminals can be added at a relatively rapid pace as the general airport infrastructure is now in place.

Unlike other Indonesian airports including in Bali and Jakarta, runway capacity will not be an issue. Kuala Namu’s 3,750m runway has been built to handle large widebody aircraft. There is ample parking space and the 1,365ha site can easily accommodate additional runways as well as more terminals if required.

Of Indonesia’s seven major airports (above five million annual passengers), Kuala Namu is the most spacious. The country’s three biggest airports, Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta, Ngurah Rai on Bali and Juanda in Surabaya, are all currently operating at two to three times their design capacity, according to Angkasa Pura I and Angkasa Pura II figures. Among the other major airports, Makassar is operating slightly above capacity while Balikpapan and Yogyakarta are operating about five times above capacity.

Kuala Namu stands out among major Indonesian airports

Makassar, Balikpapan and Yogyakarta are all medium sized airports with relatively similar passenger figures to Medan. But Medan has a strategic advantage in that it now has the space to grow.

Airport expansion projects are in the works at virtually all major Indonesian airports but it could be several years before the projects are completed and in many cases the airports will still be operating above capacity. Some of the major airports, including Jakarta, also have limited room for expansion, meaning new airports will need to be built – which can be a long and tedious process as the experience in Medan has shown.

Kuala Namu, which is about 50km from Medan, was initially planned over 20 years ago. The project was first delayed by Indonesia’s financial crisis. In recent years the project has been set back numerous times by construction delays.

The decision to finally open the airport on 25-Jul-2013 was controversial because while the runway and terminal have been ready for a few months and were fully tested, the road infrastructure from Medan is still far from complete. It will be at least 2014 before a new toll road opens as a large stretch remains incomplete due to pending land acquisitions. Other planned roads linking the airport are also not finished, leaving an old original road as the only link to Medan.

The government ultimately decided to proceed with opening Kuala Namu without the roads as a rail line to central Medan is complete and is now operational. It represents the first airport rail line in Indonesia.

Medan is geographically well positioned to attract transit traffic

Medan is the fourth largest city in Indonesia with a population of about 2.3 million. It is the largest city outside the island of Java, where much of Indonesia’s wealth is concentrated as well as the cities of Jakarta and Surabaya. Medan is located on Indonesia’s westernmost island of Sumatra. It is the capital of North Sumatra, a province with over 10 million people.

Medan’s location makes it a natural hub for traffic heading west to South Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa. Medan could potentially serve as the transit point for passengers heading to these regions from the rest of Indonesia as well as Malaysia, Singapore and Australia.

Medan is about 300km from the Malaysian cities of Kuala Lumpur and Penang and only about 600km from Singapore, making these destinations a short hop of 1hr or less. Jakarta is farther and takes about 2hr. Medan has traditionally been well served with Malaysia and Singapore, which currently account for about 95% of Kuala Namu’s total international capacity.

Medan international capacity share (% of seats) by country: 22-Jul-2013 to 28-Jul-2013

Penang and Kuala Lumpur are Medan’s largest international markets

Penang, which has close cultural ties with Medan as the two cities lie on opposite ends of the Malacca Strait, is the largest destination from Medan with 13 daily return frequencies. AirAsia is the market leader with five daily A320 flights, including four from Indonesia AirAsia and one from its Malaysia-based sister carrier. Rival LCC group Lion has four daily flights in the market, including two from Lion Air with 737-900ERs and two from regional subsidiary Wings Air with ATR 72s.

Garuda launched two daily flights on the route in Jun-2013, marking the carrier’s first international service from Medan. MAS regional subsidiary Firefly also has one daily flight on the route as does Indonesian full-service carrier Sriwijaya, which primarily operates domestically with Medan-Penang and Jakarta-Singapore its only international routes.

Medan international routes ranked by seat capacity: 22-Jul-2013 to 28-Jul-2013

Kuala Lumpur is the second largest destination from Medan with nine daily flights, six of which are operated by market leader AirAsia (including three from Indonesia AirAsia and three from Malaysia AirAsia). Firefly, Lion and MAS each operate one daily flight in the Medan-Kuala Lumpur market. Firefly serves Medan from Kuala Lumpur Subang (SZB) while all the other carriers operate from Kuala Lumpur International (KUL).

Singapore-Medan market sees big expansion as SilkAir expands and AirAsia launches

Singapore is currently linked to Medan with 15 weekly flights from SIA regional subsidiary SilkAir, seven weekly flights from Tigerair Mandala and six weekly flights from Jetstar Asia subsidiary Valuair. But capacity on the Medan-Singapore route is being increased significantly over the next few months, driven by newly awarded traffic rights made possible by the signing of an extended bilateral between Indonesia and Singapore in early 2013.

See related report: Tiger and SIA/SilkAir lead race to expand in Indonesia market

SilkAir is adding three weekly flights to Medan at the end of Jul-2013 and three more flights at the end of Oct-2013, giving it three daily frequencies. Indonesia AirAsia in Jun-2013 unveiled plans to launch two daily flights on the route from 15-Aug-2013.

Tigerair and Jetstar also have been looking to add a second daily flight between Singapore and Medan but have not yet firmed up any plans.

AirAsia is Medan's largest international airline

Indonesia AirAsia also links Medan with Bangkok and Johor Bahru in Malaysia, both of which are exclusive routes. Bangkok is served with one daily flight while Johor Bahru, which was launched in Apr-2013, is now served with three weekly flights.

As a group AirAsia currently accounts for just over 50% of international capacity at Medan. This will grow to about 53% after the Medan-Singapore route is launched on 15-Aug-2013.

Medan international capacity share (% of seats) by carrier: 22-Jul-2013 to 28-Jul-2013

LCCs currently account for 77% of international capacity at Medan. SriLankan Airlines subsidiary Mihin Lanka became the fifth LCC player in the Medan market on 22-May-2013, joining the AirAsia, Lion, Tigerair and Jetstar groups.

Mihin Lanka route represents tip of the iceberg for Medan-South Asia market

The new Mihin Lanka route, which connects Medan and Colombo (CMB) twice weekly, represents a strategic milestone as it is Medan’s first scheduled route outside Southeast Asia. Mihin Lanka is targeting the large but under-served Medan-India market with the new route. Sumatra has Indonesia’s largest population of Indians. The large number of passengers flying between India and Medan has traditionally backtracked via Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

The Mihin Lanka flights are timed to connect in Colombo with flights to throughout India and to the Middle East. Mihin Lanka serves five destinations in India while parent SriLankan serves seven destinations in India, including two that are also served by Mihin Lanka. The two carriers have a codeshare, facilitating transfers between the LCC and FSC.

Kuala Namu is the natural gateway to India for Indonesia given the large Indian population in Sumatra and Medan’s location in westernmost Indonesia. This makes Kuala Namu attractive for direct services to India as passengers heading to India from throughout Indonesia can transit in Medan instead of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. Unlike Jakarta, Medan is also within narrowbody range of India.

Indonesia AirAsia and Lion are both looking at launching services to India from Medan. The 4Q2013 launch of India AirAsia could make Medan-India flights even more attractive as well as lead to more Malaysia-India flights. India AirAsia will initially only operate domestically but could funnel passengers coming from Medan throughout India.

Lion initially plans to funnel Sumatra-India passengers via Kuala Lumpur, where its sister Malaysian carrier Malindo is launching services to India. But if Lion notices a substantial market it could launch direct services from Medan to India and conversely using Medan as a hub for the Malaysia-India market, particularly for the Penang-India market.

Garuda holds off for now on international expansion at Medan

Garuda CEO Emirsyah Satar recently told CAPA that the carrier has also reviewed the Medan-Indian market but it is unlikely to enter because the market is very low yielding. Garuda had plans to link Medan with several regional international destinations and the Middle East. But while Garuda proceeded with launching service to Penang on 1-Jun-2013 using its newly acquired fleet of Bombardier CRJ1000 regional jets, some of which are based at Medan, it has put on hold plans to open other international routes including to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jeddah.

Garuda initially unveiled plans in Jan-2013 to launch two weekly scheduled 747-400 flights from Medan to Jeddah starting in Aug-2013. Garuda’s initial route development plan for 2013 also included the launch of routes from Medan to Singapore using 737-800s while Medan to Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur were labelled as routes under consideration for 2013.

See related report: Garuda Indonesia accelerates international expansion with 10 new routes to be launched in 2013

But Mr Satar said the carrier instead now plans to serve the Medan-Jeddah market with regular charters and has decided not to proceed with Singapore, Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. He added the carrier prefers for now to explore opportunities for further domestic expansion but Garuda will relook at international opportunities from Medan after operations settle in at the new airport.

“I rather not push it now and see how things are,” Mr Satar explained. “We have limited aircraft. We have options to put [additional capacity] somewhere else instead of pushing it and taking higher risk. I have other alternatives. I prefer to take the less risky.”

Garuda is expanding its 737-800 fleet from 55 to 65 aircraft in 2013. But Garuda uses 737-800s for both domestic and regional international services and in recent years expansion in the domestic market has been the main focus as domestic demand continues to grow sharply.

See related report: Indonesia poised for more rapid domestic growth in 2013, driven by low-cost carriers

Garuda expands domestic operation in Medan

Medan has been part of a major domestic expansion plan at Garuda for 2013, which includes several new routes and seven new destinations for a total of 41. On 15-Apr-2013, Garuda launched four domestic routes from Medan – Batam, Padang, Palembang and Pekanbaru – giving the carrier six domestic routes from Medan.

At about the same time it added a second daily flight to Banda Aceh. Capacity from Medan to Jakarta, which is currently served with nine daily flights, was added in 2012.

Garuda domestic network expansion in 2013

The four route launches at Medan in Apr-2013 coincided with the opening of an aircraft base. Garuda is currently using Medan-based CRJ1000s to operate two daily flights to Batam, Padang, Palembang and Penang along with one daily flight to Pekanbaru. It is also using CRJ1000s to operate the recently added second flight to Banda Aceh while 737-800s are used for the other Banda Aceh flight and for almost all of its Medan-Jakarta flights. (Occasionally Garuda uses A330s for one of its Medan-Jakarta frequencies.)

Banda Aceh, Padang, Palembang and Pekanbaru are all cities in Sumatra while Batam is located on a small island near Singapore. Having the short-haul routes within Sumatra gives Garuda the opportunity to use Medan to funnel passengers on longer domestic routes, to Penang and in future to potentially other international destinations.

Garuda currently has about 35,000 weekly seats at Medan, which makes it the smallest of its five hubs, which also include Jakarta, Bali, Surabaya and Makassar. Garuda’s Medan operation is only slightly larger than some of its larger non-hubs, including Yogyakarta. This shows the potential for further Garuda growth at Medan.

Lion remains the market leader

Rival Lion has a much larger operation at Medan and competes with Garuda on all of Garuda's Medan routes. The Lion Group (including Wings) currently has about 80,000 weekly seats at Medan, with all but 11,000 in the domestic market, according to CAPA and Innovata data.

Lion’s LCC competitors Indonesia AirAsia, Garuda subsidiary Citilink and Tigerair Mandala have been expanding their domestic operations in Medan over the last year but all remain relatively small. Each carrier operates only two domestic routes from Medan while Lion/Wings operate 11. AirAsia and Tigerair Mandala both serve Medan from Jakarta and Pekanbaru while Citilink serves Medan from Jakarta and Batam, according to Innovata data.

Medan is also served by Sriwijaya, which has five domestic routes from Medan, as well as some smaller regional carriers such as Sky Aviation. Sky recently began serving Medan from four smaller destinations in Sumatra, some of which are also served by Wings.

Overall the Lion Group accounts for about 40% of capacity in the Medan market while the AirAsia Group and Garuda Group each have about a 20% share, leaving several other carriers to account for the remaining 20%. (Includes domestic and international capacity; counts Wings under Lion and Citilink under Garuda.)

Medan should see rapid domestic and international growth

Medan should continue to see rapid domestic capacity expansion as it becomes more established as a hub for the western part of the country. New direct services to central and eastern Indonesia are likely to be launched as congestion in Jakarta continues to worsen. Passengers heading from Medan, or other parts of Sumatra, to central and east Indonesia now have to connect in Jakarta. Medan does not currently have any non-stop flights to Bali or any point east of Java and even Surabaya is only connected with two daily frequencies, according to Innovata data.

Medan should also start to attract more foreign carriers from markets beyond nearby Malaysia and Singapore. Cathay Pacific subsidiary Dragonair has been looking at launching services from Hong Kong, a logical route that would improve connections to mainland China, Korea, Japan and North America.

North Asia routes as well as more Southeast Asia and South Asia routes could also potentially be opened by LCCs. Given that Medan is primarily a price conscious market LCCs will continue to account for the overwhelming majority of capacity.

Lion will likely look to leverage its strong domestic position to grow internationally while AirAsia can leverage its leading international position at Medan and strong brand overseas to launch more new routes. Tigerair Mandala is also keen on expanding in the Medan market, having made Jakarta-Medan its first domestic route and Medan-Singapore its first international route after launching services in Apr-2012.

Garuda, however, will certainly monitor the competition and demand patterns closely as it relooks at the potential of using Medan as an international hub. Kuala Namu International Airport presents an attractive proposition – a growing local market in one of the world’s biggest emerging economies and an alternative to the congestion of Jakarta, Surabaya and Bali. If Garuda does not seize on the opportunity someone else will.

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