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File photo of a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A320.

Analysis: SriLankan Airlines to grow its Indian operations

by Vinay Bhaskara

File photo of a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A320.
File photo of a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A320.

According to a report from the Press Trust of India, newly minted oneworld alliance member SriLankan Airlines is eyeing an expansion of its Indian operations by adding 12 new weekly flights to tap into its burgeoning hub at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport.

SriLankan Airlines chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe had this to say about Sri Lankan’s plans

We have not exhausted all the routes given to us under the bilateral agreement and have room to include more destinations.” “The travellers come to Colombo for onward connection to West Asia and Far East as we plan to make Colombo an important hub… We cover most of the cities in India. For instance we fly four times a day from Chennai to Colombo and once a day from Madurai, Tiruchi and Kochi and also from Delhi and Mumbai with near full capacity on every flight. We also operate flights to Budha Gaya and Varanasi to cater to Buddhist passengers.

After facing challenges earlier this decade as the guerrilla war with the Tamil Tigers crescendo-ed to a close, SriLankan has rapidly remade itself into an aggressive international player on the Indian sub-continent and today has the farthest reaching European and Asian network of any airline on the subcontinent.

The carrier is scheduled to join the oneworld alliance of airlines later this year, and now operates a fleet of 23 aircraft (8 Airbus A320, 7 Airbus A330-200, 6 Airbus A340-300, 2x DHC-6-100) serving 33 destinations across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

India is a key part of the carrier’s growth strategy, and in conjunction with LCC subsidiary Mihin Lanka (both carriers are owned by the Sri Lankan government), operates 92 flights per week from Sri Lanka to India, serving 10 destinations and 11 routes as shown below.

Route Frequency Aircraft Notes
Colombo-Bangalore
10
A320
Colombo-Chennai
7
A340-300
12
A320
2
A330-200
Colombo-Delhi
3
A321
*Operated by Mihin Lanka
7
A320
Colombo-Kochi
14
A320
Colombo-Mumbai
7
A320
Colombo-Trichy
14
A320
Colombo-Trivandrum
7
A320
Colombo-Madurai
4
A321
*Operated by Mihin Lanka
Colombo-Gaya
2
A321
*Operated by Mihin Lanka
Colombo-Varanasi
2
A321
*Operated by Mihin Lanka
Hambantota-Gaya
1
A320
*Operated by Mihin Lanka
TOTAL
92

As for the new flights, it would make sense for Sri Lankan to expand its operations into new Indian cities. In 2008, the carrier had pulled out from Hyderabad, Coimbatore, Kozhikode, and Kochi (before resuming Kochi in 2011) citing demand weakness.

Today, though, SriLankan is a much stronger airline today, with a better local economy and a bigger pool of connectivity to draw upon at Colombo. Any (or all) of these three destinations would make sense as expansion points for SriLankan.

Kolkata likely does not have enough origin and destination (O&D) demand, even though the market is currently un-served. Madurai might be able to support SriLankan, but it also has existing competition from low cost carriers (LCCs) SpiceJet and sees service from partner Mihin Lanka. It might also make sense to achieve part of the growth by using Mihin Lanka to grow flights from Hambantota’s Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.

Currently Sri Lankan’s third largest operation by available seat kilometers (ASKs – trailing Colombo and the Asian mini-hub in Bangkok), Hambantota already sees international service to Bangkok, Male, and Gaya. Adding, say a twice weekly Hambantota-Chennai utilizing A320 equipment might make sense for SriLankan.

About Vinay Bhaskara

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