Being an island nation, Sri Lanka’s national airline has an international focus. SriLankan Airlines’ destinations range across the Asia-Pacific region, Europe, and the Middle East. But despite the airline casting its eye over a range of new planes, it has no interest in acquiring any of the new generation long-range narrowbody aircraft to fly these routes.
Long-range narrowbody planes “not ideal for us” says SriLankan’s CEO
SriLankan Airlines CEO, Vipula Gunatilleka, was questioned about SriLankan’s fleet’s future direction at an online CAPA Live event on Wednesday. It comes amid the airline’s billion-dollar dispute with aircraft builder Airbus. When asked about the prospects of SriLankan Airlines taking any long-range narrowbodies, Mr Gunatilleka said;
“Considering our stage lane and the network, they may not be ideal for us.”
SriLankan Airlines has 24 aircraft in its fleet. Right now, only 14 of those planes are flying. A further four Airbus A350-900XWB planes are on order, but SriLankan Airlines is likely to cancel that order. Despite the fiasco surrounding the Airbus order, SriLankan Airlines is looking to modernize its fleet, and it is eyeing neo narrowbody aircraft to do so – just not the long-range versions.
SriLankan Airlines normally relies on neighboring India for business
Lacking a domestic network in Sri Lanka, SriLankan Airlines considers India its defacto domestic network. Normally, India and wider South Asia is SriLankan’s biggest market. Before the travel downturn, SriLankan Airlines was the biggest foreign airline flying into India, serving up to 14 Indian cities. Most years, Indians descend on Sri Lanka for their holidays. They also use Colombo as a connecting hub for SriLankan Airlines flights further afield.
Pending a travel bubble between Sri Lanka and India, there’s not much traffic between the two countries right now. However, Vipula Gunatilleka is relatively optimistic about the prospects of that bubble.
“We don’t have anything confirmed up yet, but what we are looking at is a bubble with India,” says Mr Gunatilleka. “As you know, a lot of Indians come here too for just two, three days, three days. So that’s what we are looking forward to.
“Sri Lanka is one of the most sought-after destinations by the Indians and the Indian middle-class professionals.”
In the other direction, SriLankan Airlines also usually does good business flying into the Maldives. Usually, SriLankan is also the largest foreign carrier flying there. While long-haul flying may be more glamorous and capture the headlines, it’s these short-haul flights that are the engine room and key revenue drivers at SriLankan Airlines.
Key narrowbody markets to close to use long-range narrowbody planes
SriLankan primarily serves these markets with narrowbody planes. SriLankan Airlines already had a dozen narrowbodies in its fleet, including five Airbus A320-200s, a pair of A320neos, a single A321-200, and four A321neos. While the airline is interested in adding more neos to its fleets, it doesn’t need long-range narrowbody planes to serve the short hops to India and the Maldives.
Despite border and travel restrictions in SriLanka, India, and elsewhere, SriLankan Airlines continues to operate a series of international flights, albeit on a scaled-back basis. Mr Gunatilleka says his airline has conducted a series of repatriation flights and now does good business flying cargo in and out of Sri Lanka.
The SriLankan CEO is relatively upbeat about the future. Vipula Gunatilleka references travel bubbles, digital health passports, and vaccinations as reasons for this. He is confident SriLankan Airlines will keep on flying. It’s just SriLankan is highly unlikely to be flying long-range narrowbody planes.
Should SriLankan Airlines be considering long-range narrowbody planes? Or is Vipula Gunatilleka’s preference for shorter range neos correct? Post a comment and let us know.