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The history of Garuda Indonesia as part of the commercial aviation industry in Indonesia started when the young nation was fighting for its independence.

The first commercial flight from Calcutta to Rangoon was made on January 26, 1949, using a Douglas DC-3 Dakota aircraft with the tail number of "RI 001" and the name "Indonesian Airways". In the same year, on December 28, 1949, another DC-3 aircraft registered as “PK-DPD” with the logo "Garuda Indonesian Airways" on its fuselage flew from Jakarta to Yogyakarta to pick up President Soekarno. This was the first flight made under the brand of Garuda Indonesian Airways.

A year later, in 1950, Garuda Indonesia was officially established as a State Corporation. During that period, the company operated a fleet of 38 aircraft comprising 22 DC-3 aircraft, 8 Catalina flying boats, and 8 Convair 240 aircraft. The fleet continued to grow, and Garuda Indonesia made its first flight to Mecca carrying Indonesian hajj pilgrims in 1956. Flight routes by Garuda Indonesia to European countries started in 1965 with Amsterdam as the final destination.

Throughout the 80s, Garuda Indonesia underwent large-scale restructuring for its fleet and operations. It was at these times that the company begun to develop comprehensive training programs for its air and ground crews and established a dedicated training facility in West Jakarta, named the Garuda Indonesia Training Center. The Company also built an Aircraft Maintenance Center at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport.

In the early 90s, Garuda Indonesia developed a long-term growth strategy which was applied until the year 2000. The company continued to expand its fleet and Garuda Indonesia also ranked among the 30 largest airlines of the world.

Alongside initiatives in business development, a new management team took office early in 2005, and new plans were formulated for the future Garuda Indonesia. The new management of Garuda Indonesia undertook a comprehensive re-evaluation and across-the-board restructuring of the company. The objective was improving operational efficiency, regaining financial stability that involved efforts in debt restructuring including leasing liabilities from the European Export Credit Agency (ECA), increasing awareness among employees concerning the importance of service to customers and, most importantly, reviving and revitalizing the Garuda Indonesia spirit.

The successful completion of the Company’s debt restructuring program opened the way for Garuda Indonesia to go public in early 2011.