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High-flying SriLankan to increase flights to GCC

Carrier also ordering 30 new planes as it sets sights on larger share of regional travel market

Gulf News

Dubai SriLankan Airlines is increasing its flight frequency to the GCC and ordering 30 new planes in efforts to grab a larger share of the growing regional travel market, a top company executive told Gulf News.

The national carrier recorded a 42 per cent increase in overall capacity to the Middle East in the year to date for March 2012, said Nishantha Wickremasinghe, chairman of SriLankan Airlines, on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market yesterday.

He expects 10 per cent growth in business to the Middle East this year.

The airline is targeting an order of 30 planes by 2015, split between Airbus and Boeing, and expects to place an order by the end of the year, he said.

Direct links

On Tuesday it increased flights to GCC destinations including a direct daily flight — Colombo-Dubai-Colombo — and direct flights to Kuwait.

SriLankan carries 60 per cent of GCC travellers to Colombo and destinations beyond including Bangkok, Malaysia, China, Indonesia and Philippines, he said.

The airline's Middle East-to-Colombo passenger loads were over 500,000 in the year to date for March 2012, a 26 per cent increase over the year before. Passengers from the UAE reached 110,000.

"For SriLankan this is a growing market. Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans working in the Gulf will always commute. There are also leisure travellers from the GCC going to Sri Lanka and beyond," he said.

"We need to be proactive and get into this market."

The airline is monitoring oil prices and expects an increase in fuel prices to reflect in its ticket prices, he said.

SriLankan Airlines, which was previously partly owned by Emirates before it became 100 per cent owned by the Sri Lankan government, has no plans to sell stakes to other Middle East carriers, he added.