Susi Pudjiastuti runs a practical airline in a country where impracticalities make her business thrive.
‘’Disadvantage provides an opportunity,” said Pudjiastuti, the 48-year-old founder of Susi Air.
With 45 planes in its fleet, the charter airline runs as many as 200 flights a day, serving about 200 destinations and carrying fresh fish to market, the genesis of the company’s operations.
Since its start in 2004, demand has increased among mining and palm oil executives needing to reach remote operations. In Papua, the easternmost province of Indonesia, Susi delivers vital goods like rice, cement and fuel.
The airline also operates as a commuter service, helping connect people who live in remote areas to primary cities. “People need transportation,” Pudjiastuti said.
She has taken advantage of her country’s lack of infrastructure to build a flight network that delivers customers directly to their destinations, cutting costs and travel times as much as 80 percent.
But as her airline expands it has struggled with a persistent and increasingly urgent problem — finding enough pilots. “Business is so promising, but you have to develop the manpower,” she said.
Industry analysts say the country is facing a shortage of as many as 200 pilots per year, causing some carriers to fall back on underqualified staff members. That could damage new airlines struggling to establish themselves in an increasingly crowded market.
‘’Growth has not been matched in skills,” said Gerry Soejatman, an aviation specialist at Dini Nusa Kusuma, a communications company that focuses on aerospace services.
The smaller the airline, the more it depends on key people, like the chief pilot and director of safety, he added.
‘’If you don’t hire the right people, you’re going to start off on the wrong foot.”
Susi Air relies almost entirely on pilots from Europe and the United States. It has had luck finding recruits, thanks in part to economic crises in those regions, but Pudjiastuti is setting up a school with a goal of training 100 new Indonesian pilots each year, starting in 2015.
The Ministry of Transportation says it plans to add two new flight schools to the 13 already in operation. It is also working with the private sector and the Indonesian National Air Carrier Association to organize a handful of conferences this year on airport development, airline technology and aviation training and education.
Meanwhile, Pudjiastuti said she was in a sweet spot in a country where people were desperate to travel. “The demand has always been there,” she said. “Before, there was just no service.”
The International Herald Tribune