“Made in Indonesia” Aircraft Controversy

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Chappy Hakim Air Force Chief of Staff (2002-2005), author of Tanah Air Udaraku Indonesia (“My Aerial Homeland, Indonesia”)

IO – One of the forefronts of the aviation industry is an aircraft factory. Indonesia as the largest archipelago in the world with a very strategic location, covered mostly with mountainous regions; it should ideally have an aircraft factory. One of the main reasons is because the air transportation system for this country is like a network used to flow blood and oxygen to all parts of the human body. The notion of an aircraft factory is nothing new to Indonesia because its ideas, thoughts, and pioneering began in the early years of the independence of the Republic of Indonesia. 

The Air Force with Nurtanio, Wiweko, Yum Soemarsono, Salatun, and friends considered and backed the notion. The idea was then continued in the Habibie era in the aircraft maintenance center area of the Husein Sastranegara Air Force Base Bandung, now known as PTDI. In short, we already have an aircraft factory whose products are already “global”, and its production, thank God, has been used by quite several countries outside Indonesia. 

It cannot be denied that Indonesia already has the capability in producing aircraft in a “World Class” category. For example, the CN-235 aircraft produced by Indonesia, together with Spain, has been used by many countries including Thailand, France, Turkey, Malaysia, and South Korea, proving that Indonesia already has a world-class aircraft factory. 

A few months ago, the Indonesian aviation community was shocked by the government’s decision to cross out the N245 and R80 aircraft manufacturing projects from the National Strategic Project (PSN) list. That means the government has determined that the N245 and R80 aircraft manufacturing projects are not included in the strategic project appraisal category at the national level. 

It can also be interpreted that the government doubts that the ongoing N245 and R80 projects for various reasons (including financial) will be completed according to plan. It is also possible that the decision was also motivated by the shadow of disappointment over the N219 project that has been repeatedly delayed, behind the schedule set in the master plan. We really will never know what exactly the reason behind the decision issued was. 

Whatever is the reason for the government, it sure has disappointed domestic production lovers, especially those with projects, and of course, it is the aircraft manufacturer to-be, in this case, PTDI. In running towards the success of making domestic production aircraft, at least three parties are needed to hold hands tightly, namely producers (PTDI), consumers (TNI, the Police, airlines, etc.), and the government as a policymaker concerning financial support. So far, what has happened and appears on the surface is the number of complaints from producers about the absence of alignment, especially from consumers, who do not seem to want to use local aircraft. Consumers often prefer to use products from other countries than to be “proud” using the production of the nation’s sons, although, “he said,” domestic products are much “cheaper”. 

Besides, complaints often arise from consumers about the quality and after-sales service of domestic products. Domestic aircraft that are glorious, turns out other than being rated lower quality, it also needs rare spare parts. Not to mention the production schedule is often delayed, which ultimately disrupts operational aspects and ends up being “more expensive” than using other countries’ products. 

As long as the controversy over the perception of using domestic products between producers and consumers cannot be met to be resolved beforehand, then the government certainly is in a difficult position to be able to decide on a policy-oriented towards prioritizing domestic production and on behalf of “national interests”. Ideally, before an aircraft is designed to be built, there should already a discussion with the users or consumers about the needed specifications of aircraft. 

Likewise in the journey, from the beginning of the design in the running process, the consumer must already be involved in it. In line with that, the government with a strategic policy at the national level has detailed the needs of the institutions underneath related to the main tasks to the equipment needed, in this appeal the type of aircraft. 

Thus, there will be no recurrence of complaints between producers and consumers and the controversy over the emergence of changes in government policy. In the meantime, it seems, the parties do go their separate ways. What must be avoided is producers who imagine themselves making airplanes, consumers who think they are being “fait accompli-ed” and governments who feel “mugged” to support their budgets. 

Indonesia has succeeded in having a world-class aircraft factory and has been able to produce several aircraft. Unfortunately, there is no single product that can be considered sustainable and successful in the domestic and global markets. CN-235 has been complained so far that it is difficult to get spare parts. N-219 has also not been able to complete the certification process. Finally, N245 and R80 were dropped from the National Strategic Projects list. 

Just an illustration of how successful the production of C-130 Hercules aircraft. Immediately after completing a review of World War 2, one of the conclusions was that the Air Force needed a multi-purpose transport aircraft that was much needed and larger than the Dakota C-47, which had succeeded in many missions to win World War 2, among other things in the attack on the famous Normandy. Then a “contest” was made for aircraft factories that existed at the time, to design and build multipurpose military transport aircraft to transport troops and other battle pieces of equipment to replace Dakota. This contest was won by Lockheed with a type of aircraft known as the C-130 Hercules. 

Air Force personnel have been involved since the early process of design and construction, and in the process of developing procedures for the mechanism of the procurement of spare parts in supporting post-production flight operations. The point is the integration of the producer with the consumer from the earliest point of an aircraft’s planning, and the initiation of ideas emerged from a comprehensive study at the level of government. A model that makes sense to realize success in the process of producing an aircraft made in the country. A mode of a production system that can prevent the emergence of conflict in the middle of the road from various parties as an answer to the “made in Indonesia” aircraft controversy.