Unless Sri Lanka improves as a tourism destination and an investment destination, domestic aviation will not have enough scope, according to a top industry official.
“Challenging economic times have created challenges for us. Business traffic is down as far as the helicopters are concerned. There is very little one can do, because businessmen do not come to fly or tourists do not come to stay the night on board our flights. We are in the middle of the end product and the consumer. The end product has to be improved,” Suren R. Mirchandani, Managing Director Deccan Aviation Lanka (Pvt) Ltd pointed out.
“Unless the country improves both as a tourism and an investment destination, I really do not see much scope for domestic aviation,” he told The Sunday Times FT.
He said business traffic for the company’s helicopter operation has seen a decline. “We are only a part of a bigger picture. We have very little influence as we are the middleman in a process.”
He said one way the company is trying to influence the situation is through price cuts.
“In the low season, for tourism and leisure sector we have mid seasonal prices. This helps keep our head above water, until traffic improves in the winter season,” he said.
Mr. Mirchandani also said that corporate travel has seen a decline. “When companies in Sri Lanka have their foreign principles visiting, our business tends to do well, but from the evidence that is available to us, this is not happening at the same frequency as before. We see that visitors of local companies have not been arriving in the country at the same rate as before,” he said.
He said traditionally, helicopters have high-end free individual travellers. “We have one major NGO client, which is the ICRC. We fly the patients twice a week between Colombo and Jaffna. Then we have a cargo flight to Jaffna,” he said.
He said Deccan imported a fixed wing aircraft in May 2007 and started flights in June to Jaffna. “In July 2007, we started international flights to Maldives for First Choice,” he added. He said this year Deccan has been re-awarded the contract.Mr. Mirchandani further said that Deccan fixed wing aircraft is essentially targeting a high end, high spending client.
When asked about Kingfisher, the Indian business tycoon Vijay Mallaya’s airline starting operations in Sri Lanka and whether it will be competition for Deccan, he said, “They are a schedule airline. We are a charter. We do not complete. It is not financial viable for Sri Lankan companies to compete against regional completion huge economics of scale.”
He identified under-developed aviation infrastructure in the country as the snag in smooth operations in aircraft. “Our infrastructure has not developed in the last 40 years. We have runways which do not meet the standard for modern airways. My aircraft can fly only in four out of 14 runways. All others are too short or too old,” he said.