Lion Group sets sight on launch of new airline in Australia

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Lion Group next plans to set up a new hybrid airline in Australia, following a busy 2013 where it launched three new carriers.

Speaking to Flightglobal in a wide-ranging interview, the group's chief executive Rusdi Kirana says Lion will however first have to work on gaining public confidence in its brand before venturing into Australia, where it is little known. This would include getting Lion removed from the European Union ban, and also achieving certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) for line maintenance.

“When you go into a country as a new comer, and when your background is in that kind of situation (being on the EU ban), it’s quite difficult,” explains Kirana. “It’s difficult to keep answering people, and to explain to them. It’s better to show them this is what we are, that’s why I will only start it after we’re released from EU ban.”

The airline boss is hopeful that the carrier will be removed from the ban by this year. He says the carrier has made changes internally, stepped up on the training of pilots and also subscribes to Airbus' standards to check on operations and maintenance.

His new venture in Australia, likely to be called Aussie Batik, will be a hybrid carrier instead of a low-cost operation, because he believes it is more suited for the market.

“Australians have good spending power, secondly, physically they’re bigger than Asians, so they need better leg room, need service,” says Kirana.

He adds that the carrier will be a pure domestic operation and be 100% owned by Lion, because local laws do not require it to enter into a joint venture with an Australian partner.

Asked why he would want to start a carrier in a tough market like Australia where both flag carrier Qantas Airways and Virgin Australia are losing money, Kirana says he believes he is able to rise above the competition.

“If you make money when everyone is making money, it’s not something great. But if you make money when the people around lose money, that’s another thing,” he says.

The EU imposed a blanket ban on Indonesian Airlines in 2007 after a series of fatal airline accidents. Lion has remained black listed even as flag carrier Garuda Indoesia, Mandala Airlines, Airfast Indonesia and Premiair were removed from the list in 2009.

European safety specialists have also said that they will keep watch over the operations of Lion, after expressing concerns over the experience levels of pilots at the rapidly expanding airline.