- Russian flag carrier will initially have 2 services per week on Thursday and Sunday
- First flight likely on 10 Oct. after earlier services suspended from early June
- Russia lays condition authorities must provide uninterrupted fuel supply or bear the cost at alternate refuelling destination
- Minister confirms letter agreeing to conditions signed by President Ranil Wickremesinghe was issued to Federal Air Transport Agency of Russia
- Tourism industry welcomes timely decision, expects major boost in arrivals this winter
- Civil Aviation Authority Chairman Upul Dharmadasa says in the process of making arrangements to issue approval for the Russian flag carrier
By Charumini de Silva
After an infringement of four months, Russia’s flag carrier— Aeroflot has announced that it will resume operations to Colombo from 9 October, initially with two services per week. The announcement came days after Transport Minister Bandula Gunawardena apologised to the Russian Government for arresting the flag carrier during an interview with Ria Novosti in Moscow.
“Flights will be operated on Airbus A330 aircraft. The up-to-date schedule is available on Aeroflot’s website,” a statement issued by the airline said.
As per the website, the airline will operate a nine-hour flight on Thursday and Sunday. The first flight SU0288 is scheduled to depart Moscow on 9 October at 23.20 hours and arrive in Colombo on 10 October around 10.50 a.m.
Separately, the Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva also confirmed the resumption of Russian national carrier after considering longstanding diplomatic relations between the two countries.
On 2 June, SU289, A330-343 aircraft was scheduled to depart from Colombo to Moscow with 191 passengers and 13 crew members but it was not allowed, as the owner of the aircraft —Celestial Aviation of Ireland had filed a case against the airline, for a pending arbitration on the lease of the aircraft in London. Following the legal dispute, the Russian flag carrier Aeroflot also announced that it was suspending commercial flights between Colombo and Moscow.
A statement issued by the Ministry noted the direct intervention of the Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva as the Subject Minister on the grounds of long stood diplomatic relations between the Russian Government and Sri Lanka to resolve the recent issue, Russian Airlines Aeroflot has decided resume flights to Sri Lanka from 9 October.
“Given my request as the Civil Aviation, from the Federal Air Transport Agency Minister to resume Aeroflot flights to Sri Lanka, I have received a letter agreeing that Aeroflot will resume flights to Sri Lanka from 9 October. The letter has been issued by Federal Air Transport Agency Deputy Chief Vladimir V. Proteskin,” it added.
The agreement letter by the airline to the Minister has also highlighted on few conditions for the resumption of flights.
“To resume Aeroflot flights to Sri Lanka, relevant institutions should take steps to have a continued supply of aviation fuel to SriLankan Airlines or in breach of such agreement, Sri Lankan Government must bear the cost of airfare to a different destination to refuel,” it noted.
Minister Silva expressed his gratitude to the Transport Ministry of the Russian Federation and the Federal Air Transport Agency for their positive response.
“After discussions of their request myself with President Ranil Wickremesinghe in his capacity as the Finance Minister, a letter has been issued to the Federal Air Transport Agency yesterday agreeing on the conditions. Accordingly, Aeroflot is to resume flights to Sri Lanka from 9 October,” the Ministry statement said.
Speaking to Daily FT, the Civil Aviation Authority Chairman Upul Dharmadasa said they were in the process of making arrangements to issue approval for the Russian flag carrier.
Aeroflot – Russian Airlines is the oldest international airline that operated international flights to Colombo, and it has been operating the Moscow-Colombo route since 1964. Aeroflot had to stop operations in Colombo in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The airline resumed operations post-pandemic on 21 November 2021. Since the reopening of borders on 21 January 2021, the number of Russian tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka increased.
Key stakeholders of the tourism industry welcomed the efforts taken by both governments to resume operations and for the timely decision. They also expressed that the move will give a major boost to arrivals this winter.
Russia remains the third largest source market, with over 50,000 tourists received so far this year as against 17,000 in 2021. Pre-COVID, Russian tourists amounted to a record of 86,549 in 2019 and a low of 59,192 in 2017. Sri Lanka Tourism has set one million tourist arrivals and $ 1.7 billion in earnings by year-end.