Denon Berri Klinsky Prawiraatmadja, the man behind the luxury operator is out to prove that the charter business can make money, with a host of domestic routes already running and international ones planned. (Photo courtesy of Whitesky Aviation)

Better Than First Class With Charter Airline Whitesky Aviation


FEBRUARY 26, 2015

Jakarta. Whitesky Aviation first flew in 2002 as a small air charter serving tourists traveling to the islands of Karimun Jawa, located about 80 kilometers northwest of Jepara in Central Java.

At that time, the company was called Kura Kura Aviation, which offered a specific service for tourists on an adventure journey to Karimun Jawa, a national marine park comprised of 27 islands of natural and remote beauty.

On one island sits Kura Kura Resort, from where the airline got its name. It offers a private island castaway experience together with diving and snorkeling in a turtle sanctuary.

In 2010, Kura Kura Aviation was taken over by new investors, led by businessman Denon Berri Klinsky Prawiraatmadja. He and his partner renamed the airline Whitesky Aviation and turned it into an air charter operator that offers luxurious private aircraft for travel or business needs with operations available 24 hours and seven days a week.

In an interview in his office near Halim Perdanakusuma Airport in Jakarta, Denon told GlobeAsia about the airline's move to diversify its revenue sources by expanding its customer base.

"At first, my business partner and I wanted to make an air charter business, focused more on contract-based business in the mining industry," said Denon. As competition became stiffer in the niche segment of air charter, Whitesky decided to expand its customer base in a bid to get a more sustainable revenue stream. It started to turn to "end users" -- affluent individuals wanting exclusive flight services.

Indonesia is home to more than 30 airlines, according to the Center for Aviation, or CAPA, a global aviation information consultancy based in Sydney. Apart from the 14 scheduled carriers, there are also air taxi operators, cargo carriers and chartered airlines -- including ASI Pudjiastuti Aviation, which operates charter and commuter service airline Susi Air, owned by Susi Pudjiastuti, now the minister of maritime affairs and fisheries.

Denon, who graduated from the school of architecture at Trisakti University, saw that the vulnerability of the resource sector to fluctuations in fuel and commodity prices also posed risks for the revenue stream of the non-scheduled flight industry. This led him and his management team to take a different course with their marketing strategy.

Once the oil price or commodity price falls, then mining and oil companies will also make adjustments to their operations to make them more efficient. "That meant they could cut the budget for [chartered] helicopter services," he said.

"I am figuring out how to create a new market for our service," said Denon, who is also the current chairman for non-scheduled carriers at the Indonesian National Air Carriers Association (INACA).

The air charter business is well known in developed countries like the United States but it remains uncommon in Indonesia since only a very few privileged customers can afford the price tag. As a result, air charter companies typically serve the utility and logistics, medical evacuation, VIP transportation and aerial survey needs of resource-sector companies.

Very special service

Whitesky is now on its way to being a private airline for premium customers. It plans to launch its expanded commercial services to non-corporate customers in October by offering a rate of $6,000 per flying hours in an eight-seat private jet. Privileged customers will be able to make a phone call and their plane will be ready exactly when they want it.

"Our service will be personalized. We will treat customers privately," said Denon, explaining the company's plans.

Whitesky already caters for premium customers, mostly from the corporate sector. Its private hangars at Halim Perdanakusuma airport and Sepinggan in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, already provide exclusive lounges equipped with satellite TV and WiFi access. Customers can enjoy their luxury time during their flight being indulged with fine food and beverages, good reading material, music and films of their choice.

Denon said the new upgrade of luxury services will be personalized. "If we take a family for a holiday in Bali, we might offer a holiday-themed uniform for the crew," he said. The company will offer something irresistible for the rich and high-powered corporate clients. "We will accommodate time flexibility for the customer, a more personalized and amicable service that fits the customer's preference."

Not so pricy

Denion dares to compare the price competitiveness of his company's future service against full-flight service carriers like Singapore Airlines. He provided a rough calculation to compare his air charter service and commercial flight fares. The average ticket price from Jakarta to Singapore in Singapore Airlines' business class is between Rp 10 million ($786) and Rp 12 million per passenger per flight. A two-way trip will cost about Rp 20 million to Rp 24 million per passenger.

Meanwhile, his company's eight-seat private jet costs around $6,000 to $9,000 per hour per flight. Jakarta-Singapore is typically a one-and-a-half-hour flight, meaning a return flight takes about three hours, which works out to about $18,000 to $27,000 flying with Whitesky. Eight passengers flying business class on Singapore Airlines will cost a maximum of Rp 192 million, or around $15,000.

While it is more costly, the luxury private jet offers a big difference in service quality, meaning that if the cash is not an issue it is a good deal for a family or business trip, said Denon.

As of the end of last year, Whitesky operated three Bell 429 helicopters, three Bell 407 helicopters and four fixed-wing Cessna 402. It has maintenance facilities and hangars at Halim Perdanakusuma and Sepinggan airports.

As a non-scheduled aviation company, Whitesky Aviation has to file a flight plan to authorities each time its aircraft will take off. Destinations are practically unlimited, but the company usually flies passengers to Bandung, Cirebon, and Tasikmalaya in West Java; Balikpapan in East Kalimantan; Semarang in Central Java; and Bali.

Whitesky also offers a chartered flight to Singapore from Jakarta. The company plans to add a chartered flight to Bali from Singapore this year to gain more international passengers who transit in the city-state. "I want to prove the charter business can make money," said Denon.

Artistic roots

The entrepreneur described himself as a man born with talent as an artist, trained to be an architect but ending up choosing his path in the charter airline business. "I was a painter ... painting was a hobby," he said, adding that he started painting at age 6.

His talent was rewarded by those who understand the arts. One painting in a carved wooden frame sold for Rp 200 million in 2002. In the same year, he held a solo painting exhibition at the Shangri-La Hotel in Jakarta, sponsored by BMW.

Denon added that he is always hungry for challenges in the business world. On top of the aviation business, he is a keen investor in digital media industry. He has forged a partnership with Agus Lasmono Sudwikatmono, the owner of Indonesian television channel Net. TV, to develop a service in digital media industry.

"I have another business in IT," he said, adding that the service will be launched some time this year but declining to specify a date or more details on the project. "We'll send the invitation," he laughed.