Colombo Telegraph

SriLankan Resilient Despite Challenges

By Abdul Basit/ Khaleej Times –

Airlines are facing a tough time because of rising fuel prices, but they remain resilient and continue to grow as tourism is also increasing, SriLankan Airlines chairman Nishanta Wickremasinghe said.

Citing examples, Wickremasinghe said despite worries such as the Thailand floods, Japan tsunami, rising oil prices and unrest in the Middle East, people continue to travel, pulling the tourism industry up, and the airline sector is benefiting from it while placing orders for new aircraft.

“It’s a tough call for airlines now, but we are resilient and we are here to go forward,” Wickremasinghe told at the Arabian Travel Market, or ATM, in Dubai. Tourism is to stay and airlines are to stay, he added.

Fuel price contributes around 60 per cent of the seat the passenger pays, he said, adding: “We are comfortable at the $80-per-barrel oil price and consumers also get the best [airfare] prices at this rate.”

He said the airline is upbeat in the Gulf region, the reason why it has increased its frequency to the region. The airline currently flies 47 times a week to nine countries in the Middle East, extending SriLankan’s renowned warm hospitality to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Bahrain, Doha, Muscat, Dammam, Riyadh, Jeddah and Kuwait.

“We have increased the number of flights and upgraded some of our aircraft to ensure passengers are pampered and relaxed several thousands of feet in the air,” he said.

He said because of Sri Lanka’s location and connections from Colombo, it makes it ideal for most travellers to enjoy dual holidays in the Sri Lankan capital and the Far East, or Colombo and the Maldives, for nominal fares or special packages with SriLankan.

Over the past months, SriLankan has been upgrading its long-haul aircraft cabins, with flat-beds seats installed in business class. Seats are also equipped with the latest inflight entertainment system with audio/video channels and video games. Business class passengers also have an on-demand movie library.

The airline is expected to place a dry lease order for new aircraft this year, so its total fleet size will be up to 30 by 2015. “We have not decided, but [we are] talking to both Airbus and Boeing and are negotiating for the best deal,” he said.

With a 23-aircraft fleet, SriLankan Airlines flies to 60 cities in 33 countries covering South Asia, South East Asia, the Far East, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, North America and Canada.

The airline will also replace old aircraft, he said, adding: “We are reducing the average life of an aircraft from 12 years to five.”

The Gulf region is also a major thrust market for Sri Lanka, which is looking to attract one million visitors this year, after welcoming 855,975 in 2011.

In 2011, the number of visitors from the Middle East to Sri Lanka rose 53.2 per cent.

The chairman said another international airport is being developed in the country.

“We will do ground handling and also provide catering service at new airport,” he said, adding that a world-class maintenance, repair and overhaul, or MRO, facility will also be available at the new airport.

Without disclosing the name, he said: “We are already negotiating with an international company to operate the MRO facility.”

Talking about the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, also known as the carbon tax, he said: “It’s very unfair.” Like other international carriers, SriLankan Airlines will increase the fare because of carbon tax. “If it happens, the consumer will [have to] pay for it,” he added.

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