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Troubles pile up for SriLankan Airlines as minister threatens to curtail flights

Sri Lanka’s aviation minister has threatened to withdraw an exclusive agreement with the state-owned Sri Lankan Airlines, after flight delays and cancellations impacted several parliamentarians in recent weeks.

Nimal Siripala de Silva said the government is considering withdrawing the exclusive rights of SriLankan Airlines to operate and manage long haul flights in and out of Colombo, relegating it only to short-haul flights within Asia and domestically.

The move threatens to grant other private airlines companies the right to operate international flights to various third countries out of Colombo airport.

The issue of the management of the national carrier has resurfaced due to recent multiple delays and cancellations in flights - the latest incident being a flight to Bangkok, Thailand being delayed by 10 hours. Among the passengers that were delayed were MPs Kabir Hashim and Chandima Weerakkody. Weerakkody brought the incident to the attention of parliament during a debate, with de Silva admitting that recent delays and cancellations had caused a loss of USD 6 million.

Meanwhile another Sri Lankan minister, Sisira Jayakody, was due to fly to Nepal but had his flight cancelled and demanded that aviation minister take responsibility.

SriLankan Airlines responded in a statement that the delays and cancellation were due to technical issues that required immediate maintenance before flying. They claimed that the grounding of the flights were routine issues, for which they have to follow strict protocols that necessitate either repairs or sometimes even replacement of parts before a flight can be cleared to fly and ensure the safety of passengers.

Meanwhile the Sri Lankan minister sought to place the blame on workers at the airline, who he claimed had been on a “go-slow” campaign, after staff complained that allowances, such as meal allowances and days off, that were cut during the COVID pandemic were still not restored .

The problems have been compounded by a lack of available aircraft for the flag carrier. The airline currently has 18 to 20 aircraft in operation, but ideally should have around 24. De Silva told parliament that SriLankan had repeatedly put out adverts for Airbus A330 aircraft internationally. “No one wants to give them to us,” he lamented.

“For us, we were operating short of crew on almost every flight,” a cabin crew member who spoke on condition of anonymity, added to the Sunday Times, admitting that repeated scenes of angry passengers had badly impacted the airline’s international reputation.

Hasantha Yasaratne, General Secretary of the SriLankan Airlines Nidahas Sewaka Sangamaya, a union represents staff at the airline, claimed that the minister’s latest warnings, would only worsen the situation.

Read more from the Sunday Times here.

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