Ailing SriLankan Airlines Looks for Boost from Qatar

 - March 7, 2018, 9:00 AM
Performers dressed as ancient Sri Lankan warriors mark SriLankan Airlines' entry into the Oneworld alliance in 2014.

SriLankan Airlines awaits a response from Qatar Airways to partnership overtures during discussions held in Colombo with a Qatari delegation, Sri Lankan minister of public enterprises development Kabir Hashim said at a recent press briefing in Colombo. Qatar had shown interest last October during a visit by Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena to Doha, where he signed several bilateral deals.

Ailing government-owned SriLankan Airlines has unsuccessfully endeavored to attract an airline to partner with it for several years. Emirates, which held a 43.6 percent stake and participated in a 10-year strategic agreement with SriLankan, did not renew its partnership upon its expiration in 2008 and sold all its shares to the Sri Lankan government in 2010.

SriLankan already has started restructuring under a process that will last for the next two years. “A new board is to be appointed shortly,” Hashim confirmed to the Daily News local newspaper. “There is no intention to close SriLankan Airlines…We need a good international partner to work with us.”

Both members of the Oneworld alliance, Qatar Airways and SriLankan Airlines plan soon to expand their present cooperation on code shares, SriLankan Airlines’ country chief for India, Chinthaka Weerasinghe, told AIN, adding that London Heathrow remains SriLankan’s only direct long-haul European destination. “Doha’s Hamad International Airport has become a hub for us,” he said. “It is a now a transit point for our passengers traveling onwards to over 20 European destinations on Qatar Airways.”

Weerasinghe said the carrier’s recently added long-haul route to Melbourne has done well, thanks largely to the Australian city’s large expatriate population. He added that large numbers of passengers also connect from North India for the Australian route. However, the carrier continues to concentrate on regional routes, in particular India, where it flies nonstop to 14 destinations—the largest by a foreign carrier—with 134 flights per week.

Weerasinghe downplayed the threat posed by budget carrier Indigo’s recent aggressive campaign to connect 26 Indian cities to Colombo. “Indigo has a strong presence in India,” he said. “However, most of their connections are via transit points. People like nonstop flights on short routes.”