MERPATI NUSANTARA Airlines is to go ahead with the lease of 16 Industri Pesawat Terbang Nusantara (IPTN) CN-235-220 passenger aircraft, following the dismissal of the carrier's president, Ridwan Fatarudin.

According to Mr Soepandi, president of Merpati parent airline Garuda Indonesia, there is a "national responsibility" to lease the locally built turboprop aircraft. A contract, is now expected to be signed shortly, with local leasing company PT Arthasaka Nusaphala, with the first CN-135 to be delivered, within 18 months.

Ridwan had refused to take the aircraft, complaining that the $110,000 a month being demanded by PT Arthasaka Nusaphala was too expensive for the financially struggling domestic carrier. As a result, Indonesian transport minister Haryanto Dhanutirto reportedly ordered Ridwan's removal (Flight International, 1-7 November).

The Government has denied any connection between Ridwan's sacking and the lease of the CN-235s. His opposition to the deal, however, was viewed as politically dangerous, given the position of Dr Bacharuddin Habibie as head of IPTN and Minister for Science and Technology. Arthasaka Nusaphala is also partly run by Humotomo Mandala Putra, son of Indonesian president Soeharto.

Ridwan was appointed in 1992 to sort out Merpati's financial problems in preparation for its planned eventual privatisation. Ridwan was constrained by Indonesia's heavily regulated domestic airfares and forced to accept aircraft handed down by the Government.

According to local sources, Ridwan proved to be too outspoken and his dismissal had been widely expected for some months. His refusal to lease the CN-235s was considered a final "parting shot", says an Indonesian observer.

Ridwan has been replaced as president by Budiarto Subroto, former Merpati senior vice-president, commercial, and a close associate of Haryanto. Merpati's senior vice-president finance, Sjarifudden Iteroeddin, and operations, Amin Kahar, were also replaced by Ishak Sumawuriah and Prasetyo Wisaksono Sambodo respectively.

A Government audit agency is understood in the meantime to have recommended the cancellation or renegotiation of Merpati's lease of eight Fokker F28s because they are too expensive.

Source: Flight International