- Tourism Minister says recommendations on reopening airports made to Cabinet, COVID-19 Prevention Task Force Committee
- Several airlines continue to operate cargo and outbound passenger as well as repatriation flights
By Charumini de Silva
The Government has pushed back the re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport for incoming leisure and business travellers indefinitely.
Previously, the authorities expected to reopen the BIA in mid-August, but due to the sudden spike in COVID-19 cases within the country in July, it was pushed back further to September.
“No final timeline or decision has been taken by the Government on the reopening of the airport. We can only resume operations when the Health Ministry and COVID-19 Prevention Task Force Committee approve it,” Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga told Daily FT.
However, Ranatunga said relevant recommendations on reopening of the airports had been made to the Cabinet as well as to COVID-19 Prevention Task Force Committee.
“The top priority of the Government is to contain the spread of COVID-19 and to repatriate Sri Lankans still stranded in various parts of the world,” the Minister said. Tourism and other sectors too agree proper re-opening of BIA could be deferred until repatriation of Sri Lankans overseas is completed.
The continuous rise in global COVID-19 infections remains a key concern for the travel and aviation industry which are the most hit by the pandemic.
However, the National Carrier SriLankan Airlines has published its schedule for this month where flights will operate to Shanghai, Male, New Zealand, Milan, Sydney, Frankfurt, Tokyo and London. The airline continues to fly to selected international destinations despite global lockdown as part of the repatriation process.
Colombo-Shanghai flights which were temporarily suspended in August for four weeks have now been resumed, with a weekly scheduled flight. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) requested SriLankan Airlines to temporarily suspend operations as a special charter flight operated on 7 August had 23 passengers tested positive for COVID-19.
In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the CAAC had introduced a new policy referred to as the five one policy, which restricts an airline to operate to one point to China per week. As per the CAAC policy, temporary flight suspensions are given to airlines if only more than five COVID-19 positive cases are found on a flight.
SriLankan Airlines has been operating to several routes to support Sri Lanka’s export industries and to keep the country connected with the global economy during the pandemic. The airline also converted a wide-body passenger aircraft into a dedicated cargo aircraft to provide customers with enhanced volume capacity in maximising connectivity per flight.
In addition to the National Carrier, Qatar Airways, Emirates, Etihad and Turkish Airlines are currently operating to Colombo as repatriation, cargo and departure flights.
Qatar Airways is operating daily flights, while Emirates has three departure flights a week on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Etihad has two departure flights a week and Turkish Airlines is mainly catering to cargo, while it also has departure passenger flights depending on demand.