SriLankan Airlines appears poised to expand its reach into the neighboring Indian air transport market after becoming the 14th member of One World alliance late last month. The move is a boost to a country trying to bounce back after a 25-year civil war and makes SriLankan the first carrier from the Indian subcontinent to gain admission into a global airline alliance—ahead of rival operators in the far larger Indian market.
The April 30 joining ceremony happened at Sri Lanka’s new Hambantota Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, serving the south and east coasts of the country. But it is hub operations out of the capital Colombo that carry the potential to feed One World traffic to and from Indian cities. “India is an extended home market for us,” said CEO Kapila Chandrasena. He said that SriLankan is looking at increasing frequencies to Delhi and Mumbai and to add two more Indian destinations to the seven it currently serves with 72 flights per week. That might put further pressure on Indian carriers already facing competition from Middle East airlines, armed with large seat capacity. Emirates in Dubai and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad, for instance, are fast becoming hubs for U.S. bound passengers from India—a trend that bolstered by delays in Air India’s plans to join the One World alliance.
State-owned SriLankan Airlines is beginning a five-year plan involving expansion and modernization of a fleet that currently includes 22 aircraft. The government has committed $500 million in fresh capital through 2017, most of which it will spend on fleet renewal. “In the next 15 years, the biggest growth will happen in Asia Pacific, and we want to exploit that opportunity by keeping control of costs and benchmarking ourselves against global standards through our entry into One World,” Chandarsena told AIN. In the short-haul sector, SriLankan has opted for the Airbus A321. For widebody options, it plans to replace its aging A340s with six leased A330-900s for which deliveries will begin in October and run through 2017. It also holds delivery positions on seven new A350-900s with which it plans to replace all A330-200s in the 2016-2021 timeframe.
SriLankan’s low-cost subsidiary, Mihin Lanka, generates 10 percent of group revenues with two A321s and one A320. It plans to expand service to secondary cities in India and the Middle East and take delivery of two Boeing 737-800s as part of a move to switch to an all-Boeing fleet.
This year SriLankan also aims to achieve 15-percent growth from its existing markets in Europe. On April 1 SriLankan Airlines’ Engineering Division began performing C checks on 78 Airbus aircraft operated by Indian budget carrier IndiGo under a new three-year contract. The carrier plans to expand its maintenance, repair and overhaul capacity at the new Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.