Competition for SriLankan, new Katunayake runway mulled

[TamilNet, Thursday, 19 May 2005, 13:39 GMT]
The Sri Lankan government is set to allow local private airlines to operate international flights using its air service agreements with other countries and thereby competing with the national carrier SriLankan Airlines, press reports quoted the aviation minister as saying. Sri Lanka is mulling adding another runway to its sole international airport, Katunayake. Meanwhile Indian officials may be drafted in to break a strike by air traffic controllers.

At least four private companies operate domestic flights while SriLankan, which is fully managed and partly owned by the Emirates of Dubai, has a monopoly on international routes.

Nine local companies have applied for rights to make use of bilateral air agreements which currently remain underutilized, AFX quoted Mangala Samaraweera as saying.

“Although nine have applied, we think there is room for only about two,” Samaraweera said, adding that the government will soon decide which companies will be awarded the rights to operate international flights.

Sri Lankan officials said all privileges enjoyed by a designated 'national carrier' will be extended to the private airlines authorized by the government to undertake international operations, AFX reported.

Sri Lanka's sole international airport at Katunayake in Colombo, which was devastated by a Tamil Tiger attack in July 2001, has recovered passenger traffic since the destruction and a second runway is under consideration, AFX quoted the minister as saying.

Katunayake is also the premier airbase for the Sri Lanka Air Force and is home to its fleet of jet fighter bombers.

The minister also said the government plans to spend 6.2 mln usd to upgrade the Ratmalana domestic airport, just south of the capital, to allow regional flights.

Ratmalana is currently a base for military aircraft and civilian domestic carriers.

The government also plans to spend 75 mln usd to upgrade a World War II airstrip at the southern beach resort of Koggala to service tourist traffic and provide a base for para-gliding, AFX reported.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is to bring in air traffic controllers from neighbouring India to prevent a shutdown of international flights in case local unions strike, AFX quoted airport chief M L M Hizbullah as saying.

A handful of Indians will be brought to Katunayake, to be deployed if talks with the unions breakdown and lead to a work stoppage, Hizbullah said.

'Our negotiations with the unions are still on and in the meantime we are getting the Indians as an emergency measure,' Hizbullah said.

Sri Lankan air traffic controllers threatened to go on strike last week in a move that could have grounded international flights to and from the island. The unions said talks over pay and working conditions remain inconclusive.

 

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