ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 8, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 06

BIA opens at night: Emirates, Air Sahara first to return

By Nalaka Nonis and Nadia Fazlulhaq

Although the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) has reopened for night operations after a lapse of over two months, many airlines are still monitoring the situation in the country before resuming flights. SriLankan Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Malaysian Airlines are yet to decide if they would resume their night flights, while Cathay Pacific, which suspended all operations in Sri Lanka is yet to decide if it will resume flights.

However, the Dubai-based Emirates Airlines is to recommence its night flights from July 15. A spokesperson for the airlines said that the country office here had received confirmation from the head office in Dubai. “Emirates will resume normal operations, including night flights from the 15th of this month. The airline will return to its schedule of 17 services a week between Colombo and Dubai, and four services a week from Colombo to Singapore and Jakarta,” he said.

The New Delhi-based Air Sahara, which suspended its sole flight that operated in the night will be taking to the skies once again from July 21. “Our only flight arrived in Colombo at 11.30 p.m.and left at 3.30 a.m. After the 21st we will get back to our original schedule,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

An official for the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines said they were monitoring the situations and would take a decision soon. Singapore Airlines said there was no need for them to change their schedule at the moment and they would continue with their daytime operations.

Qatar Airlines and Saudi Arabian Airlines spokespersons said the re-opening of the Katunayake airport during the night would not have an effect on their flight schedules as they anyway operate during the daytime. A spokesperson for the Thai Airways said they might start night operations from the second week of August while a Royal Jordanian Airlines official said they were not affected by the night closure as their twice-weekly flights operated during daytime.

Meanwhile, Aviation Deputy Minister Sarath Gunaratne said despite the resumption of the night operations at the airport, the government was unable to give full security guarantee that Sri Lanka’s sky was safe although the situation was much better compared to earlier and security forces were better equipped to ensure the safety of the skies.

“We cannot force the airlines to re-start their suspended flights while it is also not easy to reschedule those flights in a short period of time,” he said. He also claimed that percentagewise there was no drop in the number of passenger arrivals and departures during the period of the suspension of night flights compared to the period when flights were operating round the clock.

Meanwhile hoteliers and tour operators say the reopening of the BIA at night has yet to make a positive impact on their businesses which had already been hit by a drop in tourist arrivals given the country’s volatile situation. They believe it would take some time for the situation to return to normal.

Negombo Hoteliers Association president Croos Expedit said it was important that the government ensured that the airlines resumed night flights to give a much needed boost to the limping tourism. He said it was of little use to resume night operations at BIA if flights were not operating fully.

President of the Hoteliers of South, Senaka de Silva said their businesses had gone from bad to worse after the BIA suspended its night operations. He said it may take about four months for the number of tourist arrivals to pick up despite the resumption of night operations at BIA.

Airport Travels (Pvt) Ltd that provides airport transport and city tours said that it was yet to see a boom in businesses. A spokesperson for City Cabs said that just because the airport has reopened at night it doesn’t mean that there would be a boom in tourism unless the government pushed for the resumption of night flights. He said they found it more financially viable to operate at night because of less traffic and had suffered severe losses during the suspension of the night operations at BIA. Meanwhile Tourist Board Chairman Renton de Alwis said he hoped that the airlines would resume night flights which would boost the tourism industry.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.