Tourism is expected to be one of the primary economic drivers and the national carrier SriLankan Airlines is expected to play a pivotal role in the country’s economic recovery once Sri Lanka reopens its borders to travellers.
Fully owned and backed by the Government of Sri Lanka, the airline was forced to suspend scheduled services in early April as Sri Lanka took a tough stand on battling Covid-19. Now, with Sri Lanka’s health and safety situation under control, the airline is ready to take to the skies and connect Sri Lanka with the world again, said a statement.
Discussing the reopening of Sri Lanka’s borders, SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage said: “Despite the challenges we face, we are looking forward to the reopening. Even though scheduled services were suspended, as the national carrier, we have been working to provide relief flights to repatriate stranded Sri Lankans and other nationals. We have also been providing much needed cargo facilities to support our export industries and bring down essential emergency equipment and supplies to deal with the pandemic. We have been working around the clock to adapt our operations to meet health & safety guidelines and the challenging requirements of the ‘new normal’.”
Pathirage is one of Sri Lanka’s foremost business leaders and is the founder of the Softlogic Group, a leading Sri Lankan conglomerate. In addition to his role as Chairman of SriLankan, Pathirage oversees more than 50 market-leading companies with interests in retail, telecommunications, healthcare, finance, IT, leisure and autos. He was invited by the Government of Sri Lanka to assume control of SriLankan Airlines in late 2019, with a view to transforming it into a more profitable and progressive enterprise.
Health and Safety
SriLankan Airlines has implemented extensive protocols for health and safety onboard its aircraft and across its terminal facilities in line with directives and guidelines issued by local and global aviation and health and safety organisations such as the ICAO, IATA, EASA, WHO and Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Health and Department of Civil Aviation. These measures include physical distancing, facemasks and other protective gear for passengers and workers, routine disinfection of aircraft and terminal environments, health screening, contact-tracing, passenger health declarations and testing.
Elaborating on the health and safety measures taken by SriLankan Airlines, Pathirage explained: “We have taken every reasonable precaution to minimise the risk of transmission of disease, thus ensuring the safety of our passengers and crew. Each aircraft is subjected to cleaning and disinfection before and after each flight. We have even removed all reading material from seat-back pockets and provided a mechanism for online pre-ordering of in-flight duty-free items to minimize physical contact.”
Pathirage went on to say: “Each aircraft is also equipped with regularly serviced and replaced, industry-standard hospital-grade HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters, certified to remove 99.97% of all viruses from circulating air within the passenger cabin. Therefore, we are happy to say that our passengers can travel with us and enjoy our signature Sri Lankan hospitality without fear. In fact, my own business and personal travel arrangements will see me flying on SriLankan’s scheduled services once operations recommence.”
During the new routine cleaning processes, all contact surfaces in the passenger cabin are sprayed and wiped down with approved effective disinfectants in accordance with WHO standards, including windows, seatbelts, tray tables, armrests, handsets, inflight entertainment displays, lavatories and other surfaces.
All passenger consumables and amenities such as headsets, headrest covers, pillow covers, blankets and other items are replaced with fresh, disinfected items. All air and ground crewmembers are regularly tested and have been strictly instructed to stay at home if feeling unwell, and extra caution is being taken with regard to food preparation and handling, the statement said.
Special protocols are also in place to deal with aircraft that are known to have been exposed to Covid-19, which include extensive and rigorous disinfection and cleaning using approved effective disinfectants and an extensive wipe down of the entire interior of the aircraft.
The national carrier
Discussing the role of the National Carrier during the crisis and now during the recovery, Pathirage said: “As the National Carrier, we’re more than simply an airline business. We have a moral and ethical obligation to support the nation and its citizens during times of crisis; and that’s what we did. We conducted numerous relief flights, including one to Wuhan, China during the height of the pandemic. Our brave crews put their lives at risk to ensure the safe passage of stranded Sri Lankans.”
Subsequent to its suspension of scheduled services, SriLankan Airlines transformed its operations to include extensive cargo routes to support Sri Lanka’s export industries and ship emergency supplies. By the end of August 2020, the airline had conducted over 570 dedicated cargo operations, carrying over 15.8 million kilograms of cargo to over 20 destinations across Europe, the Far East, the Middle East and India. This includes cargo charter operations from China to Bahrain carrying 19 tons, 5 cargo charter flights to Kathmandu, 7 to New Delhi and in the initial stages of the special operations, 14 charter flights from China to Johannesburg ferrying emergency supplies including over 50 million units of masks and PPE. The airline went so far as to convert one of its A330 passenger aircraft into a dedicated freighter, adding 170 cubic metres or 45 metric tons of cargo capacity as part of ongoing efforts to meet the present demand for air cargo.
As Sri Lanka emerges from this crisis, the airline’s role as the national carrier is set to transition from supporting relief measures to rebuilding confidence in the country, particularly as a safe tourist destination. Tourism is a major sector of Sri Lanka’s economy and was forced to take a huge hit during the pandemic crisis. However, the country’s tourism industry is no stranger to shocks, having demonstrated resilient growth even through the darkest days of Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Pathirage noted: “We are no strangers to ensuring the safety of our guests during times of crisis and we will simply return to doing what we do best, welcoming the world with open arms and treating people to our warm hospitality, enchanting natural beauty and amazing people and culture.”
Flying into the future
Despite the challenges it faces, SriLankan Airlines has not lost sight of its expansion goals for 2020, with plans to add destinations such as Sydney, Incheon and Chengdu to its network in the coming months. However, the airline’s primary focus will be reconnecting with and consolidating its position in key markets such as India, China, the United Kingdom and other major destinations, he said.
Reflecting on the economic realities of aviation in the post-pandemic world, Pathirage explained: “Globally, the industry expects to face losses exceeding $84 billion in 2020, as per IATA’s June 2020 financial outlook figures. However, the global aviation industry has been built and grown in an environment of uncertainty from its inception. Uncertainty is the norm in this business and we are adapting to the present uncertainty. Personally, I believe that every problem is also an opportunity and this crisis is an opportunity for SriLankan Airlines to shine and fulfil its role as the national carrier; to be a catalyst for driving the country’s economy as we reopen our borders and emerge from this crisis, whilst preserving our identity as a global award winning airline, renowned for our warmth and hospitality.”
Through its hub at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo, before the Covid-crisis SriLankan Airlines provided convenient connections to 113 destinations in 51 countries (including codeshares) across Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Far East, North America, Australia and Africa. The airline operated a fleet of 24 aircraft including wide-bodied A330 aircraft, A321 aircraft and mid-range A320s. – TradeArabia News Service