Sri Lanka is supportive of an open skies policy, but not at the expense of its struggling national carrier, the country’s aviation minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said at the ICAO international conference in Colombo on Monday.
De Silva explained that governments are compelled to step in to protect and assist the national carrier, and that this necessary intervention prevents them from fully freeing the air transport sector.
Another government official, Civil Aviation Authority director general H.M.C. Nimalsiri also backed the controlled policy saying protection of the national carrier was imperative, particularly since it held tourism together when many foreign carriers exited from Sri Lanka during the 30-year war.
He said Sri Lanka plans to allow the third and fourth freedoms of the open skies policy, but for the moment will restrict fifth freedom – or the right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one’s own country.
Among those pushing for deregulation, Udaya Nanayakkara, chairman of the state-owned Sri Lanka Promotion Bureau said there was a need to liberalise air services to attract more airlines which would automatically generate more tourist traffic.
He cited Dubai’s example of adopting an open skies policy prior to even establishing its own national carrier, and how that not only transformed the desert nation into a thriving tourism and business travel destination but also created one of the world most powerful airlines.
The national carrier has been suffering losses amounting to millions of dollars largely due to carry-forward debts under the tenure of the 2010-2015 government. It has cut vital routes to Europe, cancelled new aircraft agreements with Airbus and focusing more on Asia. Over the past 12 to 18 months the airline has been seeking a new management partner without any success.