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Lion Air Takes on Garuda With New Flights to Jeddah

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Lion Air Takes on Garuda With New Flights to Jeddah

Lion Air on Saturday launched its first flight to Saudi Arabia, ending PT Garuda Indonesia’s long-held monopoly as the only domestic airline to fly to the Middle Eastern nation.

Lion is likely to capture a good share of the millions of dollars Garuda earns from travelers making the annual hajj pilgrimage.

“Our new Jakarta-to-Jeddah service marks the first time a private Indonesian airline has ever flown to Saudi Arabia,” said Achmad Hasan, Lion Air’s commercial director.

The country’s biggest airline in passenger volume, Lion will fly the route twice a week, using two 506-seat Boeing 747-400s, shifting to seven times a week early next year.

Garuda currently flies to Jeddah seven times a week.

According to Achmad, all the seats on Lion’s first flight had sold out before Saturday, and most passengers were migrant workers or hajj pilgrims.

During the hajj season, which runs from November to January, passengers will pay about $1,650 for a return ticket, while prices for one-way tickets start at $375 the rest of the year.

Edward Sirait, Lion Air’s general director, said the airline was targeting people making pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia outside of the regular hajj season, business travelers and migrant workers.

The Ministry of Transportation estimates around 50,000 passengers a month travel from Jakarta to Saudi Arabia outside the hajj season.

One of Lion’s long-term aims was to submit a bid to service the annual hajj program run by the Religious Affairs Ministry, which flies of hundreds of thousands of Indonesians to Saudi Arabia each year, he said. Garuda has this contract.

Garuda will fly more than 114,000 hajj pilgrims this year out of an estimated total of 207,000.

Lion’s entry into the Jeddah market has prompted Garuda to shift its focus to the mid- to high-end passengers flying to Saudi Arabia.

Garuda corporate secretary Pujobroto said the airline welcomed the new competition from Lion Air, while acknowledging that Saudi Arabia was one of the airline’s most important routes, along with Australia and Japan.

“In every business sector, including airlines, competition is a common matter,” he said.

“It will give customers more choices. Garuda will focus on the mid- to high-end passengers and increase our services by providing new planes.”

Lion Air secured clearance to fly to Jeddah after aviation officials from Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation finished auditing the private airline in late August.

Aviation observer Dudi Sudibyo praised Lion’s move.

“It’s good for customers because Garuda will improve its service,” he said.

“Both airlines will serve different markets. Garuda will now focus on mid- to high-level passengers while Lion will focus on mid- to low-level ones.”

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