Over 40 flights cancelled in a month; economy loses Rs. 63 m daily

– 11 airlines reduce flight frequencies
– Most cancellations from India, China
No more direct flights to Russia

By Charindra Chandrasena

Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) lost a staggering 41 flights in the first month after the Easter Sunday attacks, with 11 different international airlines reducing their flight frequencies to the island.

The airlines cited insufficient demand, with many tourists cancelling or postponing their travel plans to Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the attacks, which claimed 259 lives including those of tourists.

Prior to the attacks, Sri Lanka received 300 flights per week but this number has now gone down to 259. Overall, air connectivity with six countries has been affected, namely China, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Oman, and Thailand.

Meanwhile, Russia’s flag carrier and largest airline Rossyia, or Aeroflot, which only re-launched non-stop flights between Moscow and Colombo in October last year, had withdrawn completely from Sri Lanka. The loss of the two flights which it operated per week had resulted in a complete loss of direct air connectivity with Russia.

Aeroflot is the flag carrier and largest airline of the Russian Federation, and operates domestic and international passenger services to 146 destinations. Aeroflot had stopped its flights to Colombo over a decade ago during the height of the war.

The Civil Aviation Authority estimates that these 41 cancellations had resulted in a direct loss to the Sri Lankan economy of $ 472,238 per week, or $ 67,463 (Rs. 12 million) per day. The indirect economic cost per week is estimated to be $ 2,041,882, which is $ 291,697 (Rs. 51 million) per day, combining for a daily loss of Rs. 63 million.

These figures are based on International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) estimates, which demonstrate that each revenue-passenger flight departure in countries in the South Indian region makes a direct contribution of $ 11,518 and an indirect contribution of $ 49,802 to the national economy.

The cancellation of these 41 flights has resulted in the reduction of approximately 8,960 cabin seats per week entering Sri Lanka. This number is based on the fact that each aircraft has an average seating capacity of 200, while some larger aircrafts have higher capacities.
Speaking to The Sunday Morning Business, Civil Aviation Authority Director General and Chief Executive Officer H.M.C. Nimalsiri said that these cancellations were temporary, and they may return to Sri Lanka if normalcy prevails.

“We are unlikely to see any further cancellations as things are returning to normal. I don’t think any airlines would want to cancel at this time. Hopefully, even these cancellations will be of a temporary nature for around two or three months.”
He added that there is hope as these are temporary cancellations, and the airlines have not pulled out of Sri Lanka.

However, the aircrafts which were deployed on these routes have already been reassigned to other routes and destinations. Therefore, convincing the airlines to reassign them to Sri Lanka will be no simple task.

However, Nimalsiri remains optimistic of a turnaround and the restoration of these flights.

“If they consider Colombo to be an important destination, they will remobilise the cancelled flights. But if they feel there are destinations which offer more profits and commercial viability, they will not return. Once airlines and passengers regain confidence in Sri Lanka, we will see passenger numbers improve.”

He also added that 60% of the flights to Colombo would normally consist of tourists, adding that the impact of these developments would be mitigated somewhat by the fact that Sri Lanka’s tourism was in its off-season period.

Of the airlines that have cancelled flights, Air India and IndiGo cancelled seven flights each. Air India is the flag carrier of India headquartered at New Delhi and operates a fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, serving 94 domestic and international destinations. IndiGo is an Indian low-cost airline headquartered in Haryana, India which operates to 66 destinations. It is the largest airline in India in terms of passengers carried and fleet size, with a 49.9% domestic market share as at April 2019. India is Sri Lanka’s biggest tourism market and contributed 424,887 tourists in 2018.

Four airlines based in China have cancelled flights, namely Air China with three, China Eastern with four, China Southern with two, and Chongqing Airlines with three cancellations. Air China Ltd. is the flag carrier of China and flies to 201 destinations. In 2015, Air China added Sri Lanka to its global route network and operated four flights a week between Chengdu and Colombo using its A330s. China is Sri Lanka’s second-biggest tourism source market and contributed 265,965 tourists in 2018.

The only Middle Eastern carrier to have reduced flights is Oman Air, the national airline of Oman. Based at Muscat International Airport in Seeb, Muscat, Oman Air flies to 54 destinations, and has cancelled four flights to Sri Lanka.

Cathay Pacific, the flag carrier of Hong Kong which flies to 77 destinations, cancelled four flights to Sri Lanka. The airline inaugurated its flights to Colombo in 1993 with two flights a week, and expanded over the years.

China Eastern Airlines, headquartered in Shanghai, flies to 248 destinations while China Southern Airlines, headquartered in the Baiyun District, flies to more than 200 destinations daily. It was in September 2017 that China Southern Airlines announced non-stop scheduled services between Guangzhou and Colombo.

Chongqing Airlines, an airline based in Chongqing, China, started three weekly non-stop scheduled services between Chongqing and Colombo only in December 2018. The flights are operated by modern Airbus A320neos.

Air Asia, the largest airline in Malaysia by fleet size and destinations, cancelled four flights while Thai Air Asia cancelled one. Air Asia operates domestic and international flights to more than 165 destinations spanning 25 countries.