anna.aero meets SriLankan Airlines Chairman, Ajith Dias, at World Travel Market to discuss the airline’s development in emerging markets
anna.aero’s Assistant Editor, Jonathan Ford, recently met with SriLankan Airline’s Chairman, Ajith Dias, and the oneworld member’s UK & Ireland Manager, Jeremy Soertsz at the World Travel Market, which was held at London’s ExCeL Centre. Currently the carrier is going through a fleet development programme which is seeing the airline replace its old fleet of A340s with next generation A330s and also includes enhancements to passenger’s in-flight experience.
anna.aero: “So from my own personal experience from visiting Sri Lanka and also reading into financial reports, it is evident that Chinese investment in Sri Lanka has been very significant. Has this been seen in the airline’s route development?”
Ajith Dias: “It has most certainly. China is now the largest tourism market for Sri Lanka in terms of inbound tourists, with growth still being seen. SriLankan Airlines now serves four destinations in China which are Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Kunming. Currently each route is served three to four times a week but we are starting to plan a daily service to Beijing in order to meet demand. Although China has now become the number one market, we are also seeing a strong growth in demand for India routes, as well as to Japan. Our service to Tokyo will be increasing to five weekly flights next year.”
aa: “So as you have just said, there is a growing demand in markets to China, Japan and India. As well as these markets, what new destinations are we likely to see be added to the SriLankan network in the future?”
AD: “Well from next year we will be adding services to Melbourne but in terms of further destinations we would like to serve it would be good for the airline to get a foothold in the African market. We are currently considering service to Johannesburg, however you cannot just launch a route overnight, it will take months, if not a year or two to potentially get a route like this in place. But that is currently our plan. We would also like to see extra cities added to our Indian network in order to meet with that growing market with Sri Lanka.”
aa: “So with these markets being under consideration, could this possibly lead to SriLankan developing into a more hub and spoke strategy compared to just point-to-point operations?”
AD: “Point-to-point will always be the main focus and importance for us, however we do offer passengers the option to connect. For instance, we are the number one connecting carrier for services to the Maldives where we are currently the major and largest carrier with up to five return flights a day from Colombo. At the moment Colombo Airport is also going through a major redevelopment which will also allow us to develop connectivity traffic with their new enhanced facilities.”
At this point, Soertsz interjected to talk about the UK market and the connectivity options for originating passengers from London.
Jeremy Soertsz: “Well in relation to connectivity traffic from the UK, the Maldives is a big connectivity market, as well as services to Southern India, especially Chennai, and also to Bangkok and Hong Kong.”
Another highlight mentioned by Soertsz was that SriLankan is now starting to offer passengers the opportunity to have a stop-over in Sri Lanka at no additional fee.
JS: “For instance, for a passenger travelling on SriLankan to Bangkok from London, during the low season when flights are at lower prices, we will be able to offer passengers a stop-over in Sri Lanka at no additional cost. Of course this will only be offered on the passengers’ return journey.”
AD: “Yes, this is something that the airline will be promoting very soon. What will also help with our connectivity options for passengers is that we will be having new aircraft join our fleet with improvements in our product. This will help to make us more attractive to passengers and by having more aircraft in our fleet, we will add more frequency and routes, making connectivity much more efficient. For example, from December, our Heathrow frequency will increase to double-daily on Saturdays and Sundays.”
aa: “From my own personal experience of flying through Colombo Airport, I noticed that currently it is tight for space. With more aircraft joining your fleet, could hub operations become difficult with the lack of facilities at your main base?”
AD: “Colombo Airport is currently going through a major development which includes a brand new terminal. A lot of investment has gone into Sri Lanka as a destination for tourists, as well as business, so a new terminal was needed. Once the new facility is completed it will help expand the airport’s operational capacity significantly, allowing us to implement this hub strategy.”