“The ‘new normal’ has several challenges for airlines and airports, with the industry facing difficulties in growth, sustainability and volatile energy prices

Major General
G. A. Chandrasiri

RWP VSV USP ndc psc


Q: How do you view the role of the state sector given the prevailing economic climate – and how should state owned enterprises adapt their operations going forward?

A: During this challenging period, our role is to ensure the effective and efficient utilisation of state sector organisations’ available resources while continuously pursuing innovation.

We should not give up on our abilities and strengths. Instead, we need to focus on the core areas in which we perform well. As the civil aviation service provider, we didn’t close the airport during the pandemic, thereby ensuring continuity of our services to the nation.

Adjusting to the circumstances is the main driver here. State sector organisations need to focus more on customer centricity, and innovating with new solutions and business concepts for long-term sustainability to ensure they can navigate challenging external shocks.

Q: What is your assessment of Airport & Aviation Services’ (AASL)performance during the pandemic?

A: The aviation industry is essential to the economic development of cities, countries and regions; and it directly contributes to economies by providing services to airlines, passenger transportation and air cargo operations.

COVID-19 had an immediate and dramatic impact on airport traffic and revenue in the context of Sri Lanka’s aviation industry. When the pandemic emerged, air travel declined sharply and as a result, the industry’s revenue streams declined drastically. Accordingly, the unexpected and dramatic effects of the pandemic impacted the routine operations of Sri Lanka’s international airports.

Despite the pandemic, our international airports handled 2,375,056 passengers, 20,881 aircraft movements and – by playing a vital role in supporting the needs of the cargo sector – the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) and Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) handled 150,075 metric tons of cargo last year.

Furthermore, amid these challenging conditions, AASL was able to revamp and reinforce MRIA, which had been neglected over the years. As a result of these improved efforts, the airport handled 17,554 passengers and 214 aircraft movements between 1 January and 15 April this year.

This was recognised as a significant achievement by the local and international aviation segments when comparing the airport’s recent statistics to the negligible state it had been in over the past five years.

Additionally, AASL – together with the industry’s other directorships – worked throughout the global crisis to support our airports under the mandated rules of the health authorities. This resulted in BIA’s accreditation as a ‘Safe Airport’ by the Airports Council International (ACI) – an achievement we take pride in.

I must also say that our adherence to the best and safest protocols in the airports ensured the mitigation of the virus and other related obstacles. This has resulted in the aviation industry having a contained total of only 111 cases at this time.

Q: And how would you rate Sri Lanka’s response to the pandemic?

A: We’re quite satisfied with how Sri Lanka has responded to the crisis. If you take other countries as examples, we’ve been rather efficacious in adhering to WHO’s health regulations and achieved great progress in containing the spread of the virus.

Both waves of the pandemic were strategically countered with the help of the presidential task force overseeing these efforts, which I must applaud for doing a wonderful job in helping curb the spread of the virus.

However, while many people have received their COVID-19 jabs, it is essential that everyone takes the necessary precautionary measures to protect themselves.

Q: What are the main challenges faced by the aviation industry, in your opinion?

A: The ‘new normal’ has several challenges for airlines and airports, with the industry facing difficulties in growth, sustainability and volatile energy prices. This is primarily due to the rapidly progressing variants of the COVID-19 virus, which leads to continuous changes in the aviation industry.

Despite these challenges, we reopened Sri Lanka’s airports on 21 January with the goal of gradually growing the country’s tourism industry.

The government wants to ensure that tourism and its associated initiatives operate successfully in the future. As such, it is adopting new policies and guidelines, and we look to it with great optimism for the future growth of the country.