Exclusive, Irfan Setiaputra's Strategy Brings Garuda Indonesia To Fly Through The Pandemic
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

The coronavirus pandemic has affected many companies. The aviation sector is among the hardest hit. Many airlines have had to close their operations. Garuda Indonesia as the proud airline of the Indonesian nation also suffered a severe blow, but still persisted. Irfan Setiaputra as the President Director has a special strategy to be able to bring Garuda Indonesia to fly away from the pandemic. This is his vent to the VOI team.


Handling a state-owned airline such as Garuda Indonesia is not an easy job. Especially in the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic. But this for Irfan Setiaputra who was lined up as President Director is a trust that he must guard as well as possible.

Ir. Irfan Setiaputra has served as President Director of Garuda Indonesia since the decision of the Extraordinary General Meeting of Shareholders (EGMS) held on January 22, 2020. He was elected at the EGMS to replace Ari Askhara who was relieved of his duties along with other directors due to several cases in 2019. In fact, a tough task awaits. when he was appointed. Shortly after the pandemic hit, the task on his shoulders became even more difficult.

Before becoming the President Director of Garuda Indonesia, Irfan had led many companies, both private and state-owned companies (BUMN). Armed with experience in various companies, he tries to implement various strategies so that Garuda Indonesia can get out of the current crisis. This is hard and not a young job, but for Irfan it is a challenge.

Recently, Garuda Indonesia was declared defeated in the Arbitration lawsuit at the London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA). The court's decision in favor of aircraft lessors Helice Leasing SAS and Atterisage SAS (Goshawk) in relation to the Company's aircraft lease payment obligations submitted to LCIA in early 2021. The two companies are also currently exploring settlements through debt restructuring. The same pattern of settlement is also carried out for other parties.

Despite experiencing various institutional problems, Irfan Setiaputra emphasized to his employees to continue to provide excellent service to passengers. “Our first focus must be to complete debt restructuring, this is very challenging and not an easy job and the majority of our team will be deployed there. The second is to ensure that whatever happens, Garuda Indonesia's service to passengers does not change," he told Iqbal Irsyad and Edy Suherli from VOI in a virtual conversation recently. Here is the full excerpt.

Irfan Setiaputra. (Foto: pribadi, DI: Raga/VOI)
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

Almost all business lines have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as in the aviation sector. Garuda Indonesia itself in the first semester still lost 12.8 T, an increase from the previous 10.17 T. Meanwhile, revenue fell 24 percent. What steps do you take with this condition?

If we look at the figures compared to the previous year 2020, please understand that the first quarter of 2020 is still normal. It's best if we want to compare with the previous quarter. Secondly, I actually started the first semester of 2021 with full of confidence, optimism and high spirits, even though we are experiencing a difficult financial situation. Revenue growth and our efforts to reduce spending throughout semester 2 of 2020, especially in the fourth quarter of 2020, are actually quite promising. We managed to reduce a lot of fixed expenses, we managed to negotiate with the lessors, we offered early retirement to employees, there are more than 600 who took early retirement.

Until the end of 2020 the progress is promising?

Actually there was a very good increase in the number of passengers until the end of December 2020. So we started the first day of 2021 with full optimism, but when there were restrictions, then the increase in the number of COVID-19 sufferers, the situation began to change. While travel restrictions here and there and the peak of the Eid period, that optimism dimmed. We have to face reality. But to my friends at Garuda I emphasize never to complain. Let's find a solution while we also don't forget the mandate to accelerate the health of this nation. We received the award as the safest airline, our pilots and cabin crew were the first to be vaccinated, this is very fast compared to others. Meanwhile, we are still trying to wait for this recovery to run. Indeed, on the one hand, Garuda Indonesia is battered. But on the other hand, we are active participants in dealing with this situation and making a quick recovery.

When other airlines simply announced they were ceasing operations, Garuda couldn't do that. I told Garuda to internally stop operations is an act that is unlawful and not commendable. Because our mandate is to support Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Under no circumstances should we fly.

Although passengers are decreasing, but cargo and charter planes are increasing, is there a special strategy?

In general, the contribution of cargo is indeed simple. While taking care of the passengers is much more complicated. At the beginning of the pandemic, one of the directors said we were focused on cargo. Because there are restrictions during PPKM, while cargo does not need PCR, vaccines, etc. The movement of people may be limited, but goods are not. We strive to send goods abroad from the region, no need to go through Cengkareng first. We once flew from Manado to Narita Japan immediately brought live tuna, not frozen ones. We have also flown from Makassar to Singapore from Denpasar to Hong Kong. We have also flown from Padang to Guangzhou, China with 30 tons of mangosteen. The increase in the number of our cargo is indeed high. I assigned the head of the Garuda branch in the region and abroad to focus on cargo. If there are passengers, alhamdulillah, if not, hopefully the next flight will be there. So the passenger is a bonus.

Irfan Setiaputra. (Foto: pribadi, DI: Raga/VOI)
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

Air cargo is expensive, cargo by sea is certainly more competitive, how do you deal with this?

Yes, that's the reality, we can't buy everything, yes share sustenance on ships. We don't transport everything because various shipping conditions are more likely with containers and ship cargo. Our concern is also MSMEs whose exports were also delayed during the pandemic. It is still being studied whether there is a special price for MSMEs. We have to make sure that the economic recovery process can run faster. If the recovery is successful, Garuda Indonesia will also enjoy it.

The Garuda flight ticket price is indeed different because it is a full service airline, how do you explain this?

Garuda is focused on full service airlines, while for Low Cost Carrier (LCC) it is Citilink. But there is a reason why Garuda's price is different. To my friends at Garuda, I really emphasize that our ticket prices are expensive, so there must be a reason so people want to buy them. There is a prestige that passengers get by riding Garuda Indonesia. The psychology of passengers is different when they fly with Garuda. They become more confident and proud when they ride Garuda. So service to passengers must also be excellent.

What about the aircraft charter sector?

During this pandemic, it is the plane that charters for logistical purposes. There are also certain groups of people who prefer to charter a plane to travel somewhere. The reasons are various, some are for security reasons because they don't want to join other people. Garuda planes have also been chartered for events so that the timing can be more appropriate. I see this plane charter still has good prospects.

How about flights for Umrah and Hajj?

Umrah and Hajj are very profitable, but we are still waiting for the regulations from the Saudi government. If it is allowed, we are ready for flights from Makassar, Solo, Surabaya, Medan, Palembang, Padang to Jeddah. God willing, October will open. We'll just wait for this. Next year, God willing, we can do Hajj.

What other breakthroughs did you make as CEO?

Our first focus should be to complete debt restructuring, this is very challenging and not an easy job and the majority of our team will be deployed there. The second ensures that whatever happens the Garuda kite does not change. And there is making gifts for passengers, such as jackets and thermos. There is also premium service with the BMW 7 series and there are other breakthroughs that we are doing. The situation is indeed difficult, but we are optimistic that in the future it can be even better.

Regarding Garuda's large debt, how optimistic are you to solve it?

Garuda with debt is not a unique situation, it is the same all over the world. We are in a few months we will do debt restructuring. We will find a way so that Garuda can be healthy and restructuring can be carried out. For those who are sporty like this, we will give high appreciation. So stay optimistic, this condition is very tough in my history of working. But I am grateful for this opportunity.

Apart from having to deal with international arbitration in London in debt settlement, what else is up and down in the restructuring process?

They are typical of various kinds, there are those who collect their debts fairly, some are angry. My team and I have to face it all patiently. But when I'm excited, I'm always angry, I just turn off my cellphone. Instead of being dizzy listening to him babble on. For those who are cooperative, for example with paper suppliers, we ask for a delay in payment if they are cooperative. And we'll remember that as a kindness. In the future, after Garuda Indonesia is healthy, we will not forget those services. Those who are not cooperative will also be noted. Where were you and what was done for us when Garuda was in trouble. For people like this, we have the right to put them aside and give priority to those who have truly contributed to us.

Tips for Irfan Setiaputra in Facing a Pandemic Situation, Be Happy and Maintain Friendship
Irfan Setiaputra. (Foto: pribadi, DI: Raga/VOI)
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

Many people have been exposed to COVID-19, Irfan Setiaputra has also experienced how exciting it is when the virus is lodged in his body. He was forced to undergo self-isolation with his beloved wife for two weeks. “Alhamdulillah, I have gone through difficult times when I have to be isoman. The important thing is that we can still laugh, be healthy and always keep in touch," he said.

Irfan always believed that physical health was influenced by spiritual health. "You want to be suppressed in any way, such as financial conditions, company (office) conditions, family conditions and all kinds of things, yes, if you are lamented, everything will make your own trouble," he said.

Instead, he continued, any circumstances should be grateful. "In the current pandemic conditions, fortunately there are still jobs, fortunately they are still being paid by the company. There was a problem at home, fortunately the wife still opened the door when she came home. To still be cooked by the wife at home. We are grateful for all of that,” continued the man who was born on October 24, 1964.

To his friends at the office, he never stops telling him to take care of his health. "Always take care of your health and don't forget to be happy and happy. There are many ways to make our hearts happy. Chatting like this already makes us laugh, even though later after this someone will remind me, hehehe," he said, adding that everyone said Irfan had his own way and trick to maintain his health.

Irfan Setiaputra. (Foto: pribadi, DI: Raga/VOI)
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

When he tested positive for COVID-19 some time ago, he admitted that he had panicked too. What was done was telephone here and there how to deal with the situation when tested positive for COVID-19. “My friend advised me to keep eating, I said it was easy. Whatever I eat, I have no problem with eating," he said.

Apart from that, according to the advice of his friends, there is no need to think too much. “My friend told me not to think too much about being exposed to COVID-19. I continue to carry out activities as usual even at home. Video conferencing with friends and office people I do up to 5 times a day. So by occupying ourselves with such activities we don't have time to think about the state of our bodies. When I'm tired, I take a break, just like that until I can get through the isoman period with my beloved wife," he continued.

After more than 30 years of marriage, Irfan just realized that the two weeks together during isoman was the longest time they were alone together. "I told my wife I think this is the longest time we've been alone since 30 years of marriage," he said, repeating a statement to his wife - Luthfiralda Sjahfirdi - when both of them underwent isoman.


Irfan Setiaputra. (Foto: pribadi, DI: Raga/VOI)
Irfan Setiaputra. (Photo: personal, DI: Raga/VOI)

When asked what sport he does, Irfan apparently has his own answer. "I'm one of those people who don't exercise enough. But when I move from one place to another in the office, I try to walk. I'm not involved in any particular sport. But I also can't sit still like a boss," he admits.

Sometimes Irfan said he visited Terminal 3 of Soekarno Hatta Airport, and from one end to the other he reached the terminal on foot. Sometimes he counts the number of steps taken during the day. But sometimes he didn't care how many Steps he had taken. "So it doesn't feel like a day, it turns out that I have gone through 8,000 steps. I don't have a target and I'm not too targeted about this sport," said this 1989 graduate of Informatics Engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

Problem hit, depression is a natural thing experienced by humans. So also experienced by Irfan. “We are ordinary people, who says I have never experienced what is called being hit and depressed. How not to be depressed during one and a half years of working at Garuda Indonesia, the situation is like this. Just handle everything yourself without having to show it to others," he said.

As a leader he never showed the sense of hopelessness and depression he experienced. If it is shown it can affect subordinates in the office. “Once you show depression to your subordinates everything can go wrong. I always believed there was a way to get past all these problems. Please pray and support, "begged Irfan Setiaputra.

“When other airlines simply announce they are ceasing operations, Garuda Indonesia cannot do that. I told Garuda Indonesia internally to stop operations is an act that is unlawful and not commendable. Because our mandate is to support Bhinneka Tunggal Ika. Under no circumstances should we fly."

Irfan Setiaputra

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