Is Air Connectivity a matter of national importance and security?

A plane of Royal Bhutan Airlines charter by Air Timor landed in Dili Airport during the inaugural ceremony flight between Dili and singapore (31/10/2019) A plane of Royal Bhutan Airlines charter by Air Timor landed in Dili Airport during the inaugural ceremony flight between Dili and singapore (31/10/2019) Photo Archive Tempo Timor
 
By Jose Antonio Belo
 
Imagine if there was no air connectivity or very limited air connectivity to Timor-Leste? Imagine if there was closure of the Bali, Darwin or Singapore route? It would severely further handicap Timor-Leste's attractiveness to investors. It could even be an issue of national security as the country is driven into further isolation due to limited connectivity.
 
Does the current political and economic instability in Timor-Leste have an effect on air connectivity? The answer is a resounding yes. As the crisis drags on, air travel decreases. A lot of air travel volume is Government related. For example, the current political crisis has brought forth a budget crisis. With this, it is likely that there will only be emergency budget available for the early months of 2020. Travel expenditure is cut. Airlines suffer. If they suffer too much, the airlines cannot sustain financially and it closes down. 
 
Air Timor has done much as a local airline to charter flights to Kupang and Singapore. These charters provide additional connectivity to Timor-Leste. However, these charters are very hard to financially sustain through times of economic and political uncertainties. The flight between Dili and Singapore is of vital importance to Timor-Leste. It connects Timor-Leste with one of the global international travel hubs. This is of national importance. Air Timor admirably launched this sector at the end of October 2019 despite the crisis. However, as the political and economic crisis drags on, this very important sector suffers continuous loses and this sector is once again at risk of shutting down again as the operator struggles to keep paying for loss making charter flights.
 
There are a number of things the Government needs to seriously consider if it considers air connectivity an issue of national importance and security. First, it needs to create a stable Timor-Leste both politically and economically. Once there is stability and a friendly business environment for investors, connectivity will increase. Second, the Government should help support new sectors that are of vital importance such as the Singapore sector. Routes take a long time to establish and stabilize. While the route is yet to become economically sustainable for the operator, the Government should give due consideration to helping the airline operator sustain the route.
 
If the political and economic crisis drags on, it is likely that private airline operators such as Air Timor might eventually have to end important routes such as the Dili-Singapore route as it cannot possibly be viable financially in such situations without some assistance from the Government. 
 
In conclusion, the vital question the Government needs to consider is, how important is air connectivity to the country? Is it an issue of national interest and national security? If it is, the Government ought to consider helping vital routes stay open and more than that, to quickly solve the current political and economic dilemma in order to ensure that more air connectivity gets created and sustains for the long term.
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Last modified on Friday, 10 January 2020 09:04
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