Samantha Nagahawatte, SriLankan Airlines Middle East and Africa regional manager, said the state-owned carrier plans to launch the flights over the next 24 months. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: SriLankan Airlines plans to launch new destinations and increase frequencies to the Middle East over the next two years amid a government-led restructuring process.

The Sri Lankan government said earlier this month the state-owned carrier will have to restructure, including dropping unprofitable routes, after its liabilities reached $1 billion.

But with the Middle East one of its highest revenue generating regions, the airline is looking at starting flights to Iran, Jordan and Lebanon, SriLankan Airlines Middle East and Africa regional manager Samantha Nagahawatte told Gulf News at Arabian Travel Market on Monday.

The state-owned carrier is targeting to launch the flights over the next 24 months, Nagahawatte said, though added the airline is yet to commit to a time schedule.

Tehran, the Iranian capital, is likely to be launched first.

“We have noticed there is a strong leisure movement to Sri Lanka” from Iran even before the sanctions were lifted, Nagahawatte said.

Many see Iran, with a population of nearly 80 million, as one of the next big travel markets following the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions in January. Air France-KLM resumed flights from Paris to Tehran this month and British Airways will restart flights from London to the Iranian capital in July.

SriLankan Airlines will operate flights to Iran, Jordan and Lebanon with once it receives Airbus A330s from a 2013 order for six of the wide-body aircraft. It received its first of the six in 2014.

The airline is also planning to increase services to Arab Gulf cities in bid to capture traffic flows to the Indian Subcontinent and South East Asia, Nagahawatte said.

This summer it will increase flights to Riyadh to daily services and later plans to increase Jeddah from five times a week to daily and Dammam from four times a week to daily when it takes delivery of more A330s, Nagahawatte said.