Sri Lanka will be opening its skies for foreign carriers to operate domestic flights in the country, as part of the government’s push to boost accessibility to tourism hotspots.
According to the government’s decision on October 1, cabotage rights will be granted to foreign carriers which have bilateral air services agreements with Sri Lanka to operate domestic flights to airports within the country.
The authorities have also designated three domestic airports at Ratmalana (near Colombo), Batticaloa (in the eastern region) and Jaffna (in the north) as international airports to accommodate international flights.
The trio will join the Colombo International Airport and the Mattala International Airport (in the southern town of Hambantota) as new international destinations.
HMC Nimalasiri, director general of the state-owned Civil Aviation Authority, said that the trio of new international airports can accommodate aircraft up to a maximum of 80 seats.
He said that Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, has expressed interest in flying to Pallaly from Chennai, South India, and also from Pallaly to Batticaloa (domestic route). “This may be one of the reasons why cabotage rights have been approved by the government,” he said.
The move, however, has sparked criticism from the domestic aviation sector in view of the greater competition.
A veteran airline official and the current director of a leisure company, who declined to be named, said that he was surprised by the decision to allow foreign carriers to operate flights internally. “No country – for example, Thailand, Australia or Japan – allows foreign operators to operate local flights as it affects the domestic aviation industry,” he said. “It is also not viable for international carriers to operate smaller aircraft on a local route”.
Currently, private operator Cinnamon Air operates a daily scheduled flight across Sri Lanka with eight-seater Cessna aircraft which can land in the water or on land. There are also other private companies that operate charter flights with aircraft of similar or less capacity.