SriLankan Airlines gearing up for growth

Despite ongoing pandemic, SriLankan Airlines is gearing up to meet demand in new normal. Economic situation led to shortage of jet fuel availability in Sri Lanka, requiring airlines to adopt dynamic network planning strategies of an unprecedented scale, says Chaminda Perera, General Manager, SriLankan Cargo. 

Ritika Arora Bhola

Despite the crises which the country is facing, how is the carrier gearing up to meet the increased demand and 100 per cent capacity utilisation in the new normal?

The ongoing economic and political predicament in Pearl of the Indian Ocean has impacted the levels of production and trade and is, therefore, affecting the volumes to and from Sri Lanka. As the national airline of Sri Lanka, the airline continues to prioritize local exporters in continuing to act as a lifeline for the community.

What are the strategies adopted by the airline to move ahead and achieve growth? Any contingency plans adopted to deal with the crises?

The economic situation led to a shortage of jet fuel availability in Sri Lanka, requiring the airline to adopt dynamic network planning strategies on an unprecedented scale. The resulting measures to bring in jet fuel to the country to sustain hub operations have inhibited cargo payloads. However, the dynamism in terms of network and capacity planning by the SriLankan Cargo was significant to mitigate the effects of the Sri Lankan economic crisis and maintaining the planned flight schedule.

Throw light on your present freighters fleet. What is the reach of your network globally? Any plans to add new freighters or destinations?

Considering the present global and local market conditions affected by geopolitical factors, the airline will focus on optimizing the existing fleet of aircraft with combined passenger and cargo sales. The capacity on the network facilitates key cargo trade lanes connecting the Far East, Middle East, Indian Sub-Continent and Europe.

Explain about digital and physical infra for efficient storage, handling, and transportation of all types of cargo, especially cold chain products, pharma, and bulk cargo?

SriLankan Cargo is the sole ground handler in Sri Lanka and recorded an annual throughput of 250,000 MT. With the inclusion of the new import terminal in 2023, the handled volumes will increase up to 427,500 MT at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake. The cargo terminals maintain cold storage facilities with a capacity of 1,000 cubic meters, allowing the storage of temperature ranges 0 to -20°C, 2 to 8°C, 0 to 15°C, and 15 to 25 °C.

How would you rate infra in Sri Lanka for efficient cargo movement? Does it support plans to move cargo efficiently or do you feel there is need for improvement?

Sri Lanka exports account for 60 per cent of the total handled volume, of which 40 per cent is accounted for by fresh produce. The Export Development Board (EDB) and various perishable exporter organizations have expressed their concern on the damage to the quality of the produce by the cargo being exposed to adverse temperature conditions, which leads to ‘expensive wastage’ and hinders the competitiveness of Sri Lankan produce in the global market. Taking into consideration, the national interest of preserving quality of the produce during the processing time at BIA, SriLankan Cargo is currently pursuing an option for maintaining a ‘cool chain’ from time of acceptance to uplift on the aircraft, benchmarking the international ground handling facilities provided at many international hubs.

The present combined handling of perishables and general cargo result in concerns in relation to congestion at the terminal during peak periods of operation. These include delays in connectivity and build up due to the specialized screening requirements for commodities as well as ‘wet’ nature of perishable cargo damaging general cargo packaging when utilizing the same screening machines. SriLankan Cargo intends to demarcate an area for handling courier cargo alongside the dedicated handling facilities provided for general cargo to enhance the speed of handling and connectivity required by the commodity and develop a product for a global courier hub as a strategy to cater to the fast-growing e-commerce sector.

Please elaborate on the Indian destinations covered, and what kind of cargo is moved to and from
the country?

SriLankan Airlines maintains a scheduled line of operations to Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Kochi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Madurai, Tiruchirappalli, and Thiruvananthapuram in India. It also connects to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, Doha in Qatar, Dammam and Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Muscat in Oman, and Kuwait in the Middle East. The main export commodities from India into the Middle East are fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as chilled fish, pharmaceutical and engineering goods, and other general cargo. The exports from the Middle Eastern market into India are personal effects shipments.

Sustainability has become the buzzword in the air cargo sector. Kindly share with us the carbon-neutral initiatives taken by the airline in this regard?

SriLankan Airlines maintains a fleet of electric ground handling equipment with the focused enhancement to account for 50 per cent of the fleet by 2030. Commending the airline’s corporate environment policy, SriLankan Cargo signed an air waybill (e-AWB) as an initiative to reduce paper consumption and promote a paper-free work environment that would enable SriLankan Cargo to perform its functions efficiently. The e-AWB penetration accounts for as much as 85 per cent of all exports uplifted out of Sri Lanka with a targeted 100 per cent penetration by December 2022.