The recent visit in early March of King Salman of Saudi Arabia to Indonesia is already translating into concrete steps for Indonesian air transport. An agreement has been signed between the two countries to increase flights significantly. Saudi Arabia granted unlimited flights from three more cities in Indonesia, it was announced by Indonesia Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi.
Under the bilateral agreement, Saudi Arabia will allow regular flights into its airspace from Solo in Central Java, Balikpapan in West Kalimantan and Makassar in South Sulawesi.
Previously, Saudi only allowed flights from the cities during the hajj season. the Saudi kingdom also acknowledged the fact that more and more Indonesians want to visit Mecca for small pilgrimage such as umrah, or mini-hajj, which can be done at any time of the year.
The minister said Solo, Balikpapan and Makassar were chosen for their strategic locations, offering easy access to pilgrims from all over the archipelago. They will join jakarta, Surabaya and medan, until now the only cities to be allowed to have year-round scheduled flights to Saudi Arabia.
Both civil aviation authorities are now working on how the countries would divide flight slots for airlines, mostly from Indonesia. Lion Air and Indonesia national carrier Garuda are the two carriers offering for now flights out of Indonesia to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabian flies regularly to Jakarta. Announcement regarding which airlines will be able to offer flights will be released within two to three months, according to Transport Minister Budi Karya Sumadi.
The launching of additional routes could also stimulate tourism from Saudi Arabia to indonesia. Central java with Solo is considered as the cradle of islam in Indonesia with many historical mosques and pilgrimage sites. Balikpapan is also an important destination for business travellers as it is considered the centre of Indonesian oil and gas industry.