Cashing in on two untapped markets, Mihin Air, Sri Lanka’s national budget carrier, has seen instant success in its flights to Indonesia and Bangladesh and in two years plans to expand the fleet to six from two.
Introducing these regional destinations along with the Maldives, a few weeks after purchasing a second aircraft in December 2010, Mihin Air has seen a passenger load factor of 100 % on the Jakarta-Colombo return while both onward and incoming flights to Dhaka and Maldives have shown an average 70-80 % load. The same average is seen on the Colombo-Jakarta sector. National carrier SriLankan Airlines has stopped flying to Dhaka and Jakarta as these sectors have been uneconomical vis-à-vis the load factors.
“These load levels are normally achieved (by airlines) by flying at least for 6 to 12 months in a new sector. But we have done it in three. Our increasing passenger numbers speak volumes of the confidence we have now built up,” Mihin Air Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena told the Business Times recently.
He said they found that there was a large untapped market in these three destinations. “Having studied the regional requirement we found that these countries have a population which like us has a large amount of people working in the Middle East (ME). However there were no proper connecting flights among these countries and the ME. We saw this fabulous opportunity and capitalized on it. The segment we cater to are the middle income group of these countries. These people want to travel at the most economical way. They also want value for money. We have recognized this and we have met their requirements,” he said.
The airline’s Colombo-Dhaka sector has also seen a steady flow of business travelers. “Though we have targeted the Middle East workers as our main passenger segment the message is now fast spreading,” he added.
Mihin Air has in these past two years recovered from very negative balance sheet, owing to sharp overhead cuts and spending money to encourage productivity. “We are now on the road to recovery. When we have fully utilized our flight capacity we will then look at further additions to our fleet. We hope to expand our fleet to six aircraft in another two years,” he said.
Mr Chandrasena said they have Sri Lanka pilots who have clocked over 10,000 hours flying with international flights. “We are also training flight officers picked from the among the fighter pilots from the Air Force as a mark of gratitude for their service to the country. This is good carrier advancement opportunity for them. As its now peace-time they have the chance to become commercial pilots,” he said.
Mihin Air also provides training to those interested in making flying a career. “We offer those interested the opportunity to enroll and train with us for a fee and at the end of the course we employ them. This way we do not incur an additional cost of training first officers,” Mr Chandrasena added.
The requirement of the budget air traveler is threefold -- safety, comfort and value for money. “We have provided all these to our customers and even more. The airworthiness of our aircrafts is in comparison to the any airline in the world. As our flight is on average 3 to 4 hours the comfort level provided is amply adequate. Finally the cost of the flight has been kept to a minimum. We are considerably lower in price when compared to other carriers,” he said.
Mihin Air also flies to Kuwait and Dubai, and Varanasi, Boddha-gaya and Trichy in India.