Reviving Sri Lanka’s air travel amidst Covid-19 

By D.V. Chanaka 

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak took place, daily life across the globe has transformed with unprecedented shocks on the global economy, trade, and mobility. All facets of our socio-economic activities were disrupted creating many challenges for the leaders. 

Air transport has lingered as one of the hardest-hit global industries. The economic, social, and health repercussions for the aviation sector are far-reaching and the pandemic will impinge on the aviation industry for years to come.

After a decade of steady and strong growth in global passenger traffic, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic brought airports around the world to a virtual halt after the second quarter of 2020. The following graph depicts the lasting adverse impact of the Covid-19 crisis on aviation. ACI (Airport Council International) World’s Director General has stated “the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on global passenger traffic brought aviation to a virtual standstill in 2020, and continue to face an existential threat”.

Number of scheduled passengers boarded by the global airline industry from 2004-2021 in millions Source_-Statista-2021-2021-figure-forecasted.png

According to IATA reports in 2020, the Covid-19 crisis removed more than 5.9 billion passengers for the whole year 2020 compared to the projected baseline (pre-Covid-19 forecast for 2020), representing a decline of 62.3% of global passenger traffic compared to the 2019, which is, by far, the sharpest traffic decline in aviation history. 

ACI has stated that passenger numbers are expected to be 47.3% down by the end of 2021 compared to 2019 and predicted that global traffic may take up to two decades to return to previously projected levels. 

Total number of passengers arrived and departedvia BIA and MRIA from January 2021 to September 2021 Source_-AASL.png

However, with the aggressive efforts on vaccinating the populations currently, many countries have publicised positive signals of the gradual reopening of the economies. With the help of the Government of Sri Lanka, AASL has taken the initiative to vaccinate the employees working at the airport to safeguard employees as well as offer a better assurance to our passengers. 

As a result of moving away from lockdowns and opening the international borders, international air travel restrictions also eased partially or totally. Less disruptive restrictions have been placed on air travel to limit infections while promoting safe travel. 

Subsequently,as many countries ease off their travel restrictions, Sri Lanka is also experiencing an increase in passenger numbers compared to the last few months. As the airlines are keen on resuming scheduled operations and more passengers are expected to return to travel. These positive signs are directed towards a surge in air travel demand for the second half of the year though international passenger traffic remained weak in the first half of 2021. 

Moreover, BIA and MRIA total number of passenger traffic movements showed an increase indicating positive signs. The total traffic movements of BIA and MRIA in September has shown nearly 60% growth compared to August. 

As a result of removing the travel restrictions, many airlines have resumed scheduled operations to Sri Lanka. 

Meanwhile, as a new addition to the airlines operating on schedule, Air France and Swiss International Airlines will commence their direct flights to Sri Lanka. Air France will commence its operations from 5 November 2021 and it has planned to bring tourists from the regions such as Europe, the US, Canada, Central America, and South America using its network and the services of joint-venture partners such as Delta Airlines, US and Virgin Atlantic, UK.

Swiss International Airlines will commence its operations from 5 November 2021 connecting Sri Lanka with Switzerland. It has announced two weekly flights between Colombo and Zurich. 

In addition to that, at present, there are several other new airlines negotiating with us to commence operations to Sri Lanka in the winter season. 

We are excited to see the support given by the existing and the new airlines to revive the country’s aviation industry as well as the tourism industry. 

(The writer is State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development)