The Lion Group plans to make Hang Nadim Airport on Batam its second major hub, which also helps the Indonesian island’s effort to establish itself as a regional aviation epicenter. Lion Air has based three Boeing 737s at Hang Nadim, situated just 12 miles from Singapore. The airport has the longest runway in Indonesia, at 13,250 ft, which is capable of handling Airbus A380s.

Lion’s main base is Soekarno-Hatta International Airport at Jakarta, on the main Indonesian island of Java.

Lion Group president Rusdi Kirana describes the move as a “win-win for consumers and for the airline,” due to shorter journey times for east-west domestic routes – and critically, lower airline operations and maintenance costs.

Lion recently boosted the number of domestic connections from Batam to 15, and plans to add five more in coming months.

It is also looking at other international destinations, using 737-900ERs, via its full-service offshoot Batik Air.

Currently flying to just three international destinations – Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam – Lion says it plans to open routes to destinations such as Guangzhou and Hong Kong in China, Bangkok in Thailand, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia, and possibly New Delhi and Mumbai in India.

This boost to flight ops is complemented by the construction of four heavy maintenance hangars for onsite MRO facilities. One is operational now.

This expansion of capacity, together with what an industry source described as “significantly lower labor rates,” could mean some carriers take heavy maintenance to Batam instead of Singapore. Key Indonesian operators such as Garuda’s GMF and Batam Aero Technic (BAT) already established significant workforces at the airport.

“At present there is only Lion [based] at Hang Nadim, but we are actively selling [maintenance] capacity,” says a spokesperson.

Lion’s maintenance division, Lion Technic, is importing European EASA-certified maintenance personnel to Indonesia, says Lion Technic president Romdani Adali Adang. Romdani says they will “be mentors and help ensure that Lion’s line maintenance is in keeping with EASA standards.”

Currently, in addition to Lion, Batam handles mostly local airlines such as Citilink Indonesia and Wings Abadi – but this could change as its capacity and facilities ramp up. However, one spokesperson in the industry noted that the doorstep challenge to Changi Airport will remain just that “in the years to come.”

Nonetheless, with lower infrastructure and handling costs, a similar flight time to Singapore for most international destinations and an improving workforce, Batam is showing a strong hand.

The possibility remains that Hang Nadim could start to take some of Singapore’s low-end maintenance business as well as traffic.