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Europeans Opting for India Over West Asia as Transit Hub for Sri Lanka

According to a report in The Business Standard, an increasing number of passengers from Europe to Sri Lanka are now choosing to transit through Indian airports like New Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru, rather than traditional West Asian hubs like Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Doha, said Richard Nuttall, CEO, SriLankan Airlines. SriLankan Airlines has a codeshare partnership with Air India, which operates 85 weekly flights to 10 European destinations. It only flies to Paris in Europe. The partnership allows each airline to sell seats on the other’s flights, sharing the same flight code. “The tourism traffic to Sri Lanka is seasonal. We have a limited number of direct flights from Europe. Some of those direct flights are also seasonal. All the traffic from Europe typically used to connect over West Asia. Now, we are seeing more traffic connecting over India,” Nuttall said on the sidelines of the Aviation India 2024 event. “We are seeing Delhi, Mumbai, and Bengaluru becoming hubs to Europe. It is interesting. This increase is something that we have observed in the past year. It is noticeable. If you go back a few years, you did not connect in India unless you need to. Now, it is quite commonplace,” he explained. Nuttall said transit traffic from Europe via India to Colombo has tripled since the Covid- 19 pandemic. In recent years, India has made significant efforts to develop major airports like Delhi and Mumbai as hubs.

Consequently, it has been reluctant to increase bilateral rights to the three Middle Eastern hubs, aiming to position its carriers, like Air India, as major players on long-haul and ultra long-haul routes to Europe. Air India has almost doubled its Europe flights to 85 flights per week in the last 2 years. In this time period, the airline has started flights to Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Milan, Vienna, Zurich and London Gatwick airports in Europe. This, along with suitable time gaps between its Europe flights and SriLankan Airlines’s India flights, has assisted the airline in boosting its international-to-international transit traffic to neighbourhood countries like Sri Lanka. SriLankan Airlines is currently operating about 80 flights per week between Colombo and 11 cities in India. Nuttall said the airline wants to increase its India flights by about 25 per cent by March next year. “Of our 22 planes, 16 are operational. By March next year, we want to increase the number of operational aircraft to 25. This will assist us in increasing the services to and from India,” he added. The number of tourists from India to Sri Lanka has swelled from 12,000 per month in 2023 to about 40,000 per month this year. “This means that the demand is there. All we need to do is put more flights at the right time slots,” he added.

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