Chris takes off with Indonesia’s biggest regional airline, and is pleasantly surprised.
Wings Air is the partner airline of Indonesia’s most popular airline, Lion Air. It specialises in flights to smaller airports, e.g. Labuan Bajo, Nias, Malang, Sumba and Sumbawa, Maluku and West Papua. These airports have shorter runways, so it uses smaller aircraft:
Wings Air ATR72-500, with 68 seats
Why Propellor Planes?
Sometimes, clients are concerned about flying a plane with propellors, not jet engines. They consider it to be “old” technology, or perhaps they have never flown on a similar aircraft in their home country.
However, propellor planes (a.k.a. turboprops) are still used frequently throughout the world for shorter routes and remote locations/smaller airstrips. ATR is part-owned by EADS, the parent company of Airbus. ATR aircraft are IATA-certified and permitted to fly in EU airspace.
After an initial purchase of 30 ATR72-500 aircraft in 2009, last year Wings Air agreed to buy 30 more. At the signing ceremony in Jakarta, the purchase was witnessed by then French Finance Minister (now IMF Director) Christine Lagarde. This suggests both Wings Air and the French government are confident in the safety and reliability of the aircraft.
Other more well-known airlines that operate ATR72 aircraft include:
Smaller aircraft also have certain strategic advantages over larger aircraft. Many Indonesian airports in smaller cities have runways that are too short for larger aircraft. Building larger airports or extending runways is often not possible due to problems with land acquisition and obtaining adequate financing. This situation is unlikely to change soon.
Even Garuda Indonesia is starting to use smaller aircraft for smaller airports and shorter routes. The first of 18 Bombadier CRJ1000 NextGen aircraft recently arrived in Makassar.
Of course, it is one thing to say, but another thing to do.
So, yours truly tried flying with Wings Air earlier this month (on a work trip, not a freebie).
Wings Air was recently found to have the second-best rate of on-time performance: 83.8%. Perhaps Wings Air has a slightly unfair advantage in this area. It commenced boarding at the usual time: 30 minutes before departure. However, the Wings Air plane has only 68 seats, or about half those in e.g. a Boeing 737. All passengers had boarded (even the slow ones) 15 minutes before departure, and the flight left 10 minutes early. On the return journey, the flight still departed on time even though boarding started late. The smaller plane had another fringe benefit: no queue when checking-in. As seasoned Indonesian travellers can attest, this doesn’t happen often.
One different feature was having to board at the rear of the plane. The only doors at the front are the emergency exits and the cargo/baggage door. Talking about baggage, the baggage allowance is a loosely-enforced 15kg for checked baggage, 7kg for hand luggage.
In-flight comfort was better than on Lion Air planes. Legroom was adequate; every seat had an in-flight magazine and the usual items, including invocation card. The flight was quiet and smooth, apart from the occasional wobble during take-off and descent (same as for larger aircraft). Like Lion Air, there is no in-flight food or drink for free or for sale, but flights are short enough that this is not a problem. There were two air hostesses; apart from the safety demonstration, ascent and descent, they were invisible. Curiously, there were no announcements to the passengers from the pilots, so everyone was blissfully unaware about our cruising altitude, the weather at our destination, etc.
To summarise, this passenger had a positive experience flying Wings Air and would happily do so again.
Would you like to fly Wings Air? Please make an enquiry here.