Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali said that officially, there were now three airlines offering hajj flights. “It is now settled, there are now three [airlines],” Suryadharma said at the Presidential Palace.
He said that previously only Garuda was involved in transporting the hajj pilgrims for the season, and Saudi Arabia Airlines was reciprocally involved. “Saudi Arabia has to be involved because we abide by the reciprocal principle, and therefore if we send citizens to another country, then the airline of the concerned country of destination is given the opportunity to participate,” he said.
He said that under the current scheme, Saudi Arabia Airlines will offer 48 percent of the flights while Garuda and Batavia Air will serve the remaining 52 percent.
Suryadharma did not give a figure on the estimated number of hajj flights for 2012, nor of their cost.
Another Indonesian airline, Lion Air, had also been invited to the tender bid to provide services to Mecca for the hajj this year.
Last year, Batavia Air joined the tender but was rejected by the Religious Affairs Ministry, which said it did not have a permit to land at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah, although Batavia Air denies this.
An estimated 200,000 pilgrims from Indonesia are expected to travel to Mecca this year from 12 embarkation points across the country, up from 11 last year.
The airport at Lombok is the latest embarkation point included under the scheme. Regulations stipulate that all hajj-participating airports in Indonesia are capable of accommodating Boeing 747 aircraft, but the Lombok airport falls short and needs its runway to be extended by 250 meters.
Islam requires all Muslims who can afford the travel fares to make the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia at least once in their lifetime. Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world.
Jakarta Globe | Arientha Primanita | April 18, 2012