In Indonesia’s jungles and mountains the only way is air

Social development Community lifelines

It is one of the world’s most remarkable little airlines. Susi Air provides a vital and growing air bridge carrying passengers, medical supplies and food between Indonesia’s major trading centres and some of the world’s remotest communities.

Indonesia is transport planners nightmare - a country of over 17,000 islands and even on the largest of these the construction of roads and railways is hampered by vast mountain ranges and thick jungle. The country has 650 airfields – but some of these are little more than 250m grass strips running up the side of a mountain. Yet these tiny grass strips can be the only link that many remote tribes have with the rest of the country, so the opening of a new airstrip is often greeted with huge celebrations because it gives these communities a vital lifeline.

In the last ten years Susi Air has grown from a two-aircraft transport operation flying fish to Jakarta to a 50-aircraft airline connecting the interior of the country to the outside world. With its fleet of mainly single-engined aircraft the airline delivers aid, carries out vital survey work, flies surfers from Medan and Padang to the popular surf destinations on the West Coast of Sumatra and trains pilots to fly in some of the most hostile aviation conditions in the world.

To reach these remote communities pilots have to contend with active volcanoes, virtually no air traffic control support, take-off and landing routes that thread through mountain passes, livestock on the runway and extreme and changeable weather conditions. This leaves virtually no room for error, which makes the company’s pilots some of the most resourceful aviators in the world, as viewers of the British TV series Worst Place to be a Pilot can attest. While the title of the show is a little dramatic, it does highlight the difficult operating conditions these pilots must face – and viewers will be able to tell that a lot of these pilots are very proud of the service they provide remote communities.

Over the last ten years the airline has pioneered a large number of new routes to villages which have no other developed transport links. It now has more than 180 pilots, 75 aircraft engineers and mechanics and 650 other ground and support staff. Helicopter operations started late 2009. It recently acquired a twin-engined Dornier Do 228 which can carry up to 19 passenger and 2340 kg of cargo providing increased capacity on its busier routes.

The airline is the brainchild of entrepreneur and environmental activist Susi Pudjiastuti. Check out a couple of the videos from Pilots Dave and Matt below: