Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Tience Sumartini : On the wings of a dream

Matheos Viktor Messakh , The Jakarta Post , Jakarta | Wed, 04/01/2009 2:57 PM | People

Tience Sumartini is one of those lucky people who can build their businesses around their passion - in her case, flying.

Tience fell in love with flying when she was about 26. One day, in the late 1970s, she and her husband saw a glider in the sky. They followed the glider to where it landed, and asked the pilot for more information about gliding.

Later, with a group of friends, they set up a club and hired professional gliding instructors so they could learn in their free time.

So in the 1980s, when many housewives passed their time in malls or salons, Tience Sumartini hung out with her friends - mostly men - at Pelita Airport in Pondok Cabe, Tangerang.

"We really wanted to be pilots but we couldn't go to Curug flying school. Most of us had our own jobs and couldn't be locked up in a dormitory such as in Curug, so we hired instructors."

Tience did her first solo flight in a glider at Pondok Cabe in a schweizer aircraft. "I remember the instructors didn't tell us about it in advance so I was very nervous. But I did it anyway."

Two years after learning how to fly a glider, Tience went on to train to become a pilot of powered aircraft.

Her passion for flying also led her to learn how to make her own aircraft - she has built three planes - as well as set up a series of aviation-related businesses, such as PT ATS Buana Airtech, a company for aviation engine components. She also owns five private aircrafts, currently parked in Australia.

A busy schedule means Tience, now 55, has not flown for a while - her pilot license has expired - but her heart is still firmly within the aviation world.

So she did not hesitate when her colleagues and former Garuda Airways directors Robby Djohan and Wiradharma Oka asked her to join them in establishing a flying school in Bali.

"I had always dreamed about this flying school but it never happened because I was busy with a few businesses," she says. "I agreed to be part of it because I knew they were not only businessmen in aviation but also liked flying. Working with people who are passionate about what they are involved in means we speak the same language."

Tience, who is on the Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry's advisory board, says that despite a series of accidents and the current economic crisis, the aviation business climate remains strong because of the nature of the country and people's need to travel. Airlines have failed because of poor management, rather than decreasing demand, she says.

"Not all *airlines offering* cheap flights are managed badly but one should question why a flight is so cheap," she says. "The worse thing is if they cut down on maintenance, which is vital, to be able to win the price war."

Tience says that, according to world aviation data, the number of air travelers has been increasing: In 1998, six million people flew, while in 2007, 30 million did.

"We are as big as the US but we are archipelagic country," she says. "There is no choice if more and more people need to travel fast. They need to save time no matter what the price is. They can't spend days at sea."

Although there are several pilot schools in Indonesia, with about 140 pilots graduating each year, Tience believes the country "actually needs 400 pilots a year".

"Take for example Garuda Airlines, which is now in the process of purchasing 50 Boeing 737 new generation aircraft and 10 Boeing 777 aircraft. It will need more than 200 pilots."

The quality of pilot schools is another reason for her interest in setting up her own.

"What can we expect from schools that do not have their own runways and have only a limited number of airplanes and instructors?" she says. "The only thing they can do is to wait for their turn to use other people's runways, which of course lowers the quality of their training."

After about two years of preparation, the Bali International Flight Academy (BIFA) was opened in February. Twenty-one students have enrolled as the first batch of cadets, including one from the UK.

The academy offers the 16-week Private Pilot's License course, which qualifies graduates to fly a single engine aircraft in the noncommercial category, and the 48-week Commercial Pilot's License course, after which a pilot can fly professionally.

BIFA has its own training facilities at Letkol Wisnu Airfield, 65 kilometers west of Singaraja in Buleleng. The 7,000 square meter complex includes an aerodrome, a training center, a hangar, a dormitory and the latest generation of Frasca 142 flight simulators, which meet the US Federal Aviation Administration standard.

The academy, which is certified under the directorate general of civil aviation and the International Civil Aviation Organization, has a fleet of five Cessnas; 10 more will be provided by the end of the year.

The school hopes to gain international recognition immediately.

"I believe in less than 10 years we will able to attract students from all around the world to enroll in the academy," Tience says. "We must prove that we can sell more than just maids to the world. We can also sell pilots."

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