Skift Take

Will Peter Hill pull off a SriLankan Airlines with FitsAir? No pressure for this returning aviation veteran.

FitsAir, which had so far been a cargo airline, started operations as a low-cost scheduled international passenger carrier on Wednesday as it took off from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport for Dubai.

Formerly known as ExpoAir, the airline owned by Aberdeen Holdings is said to be the country’s first privately owned scheduled international passenger carrier.

The low-cost carrier will be flying the Colombo-Dubai route three times a week and will also start thrice-weekly operations to Male in Maldives from October 10. FitsAir will also be flying to cities in south India, the first of which will be to Trichy in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, from October 28.

FitsAir also marks the return of aviation veteran Peter Murray Hill to Sri Lanka as the vice president of passenger operations. Hill had earlier been the CEO of SriLankan Airlines while it was under the Emirates management, helming the airline from 1998 to 2007.

He is famously credited to have steered the loss-making Sri Lankan Airlines towards profitability. However, his work permit was revoked in 2007, when he refused preferential treatment by not giving seats to the then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his 35-member entourage on a fully booked flight from London during their private visit.

With over 50 years of experience in airlines, including British Airways, Oman Air and Gulf Air, Hill is also said to have played a major role in building Emirates to what it is today.

No-Frills Competitively-Priced Airline

FitsAir would be operating from Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport and Ratmalana Airport as well as Jaffna Airport. The airline plans to develop a mini hub in Jaffna while there are plans to resume domestic operations around Ratmalana Airport.

FitsAir is entering the Sri Lankan aviation market at a time when the country is currently facing the most severe financial crisis in more than seven decades. Amid the acute shortage of foreign exchange and fuel, the Sri Lankan economy shrank 8.4 percent in the April-June quarter compared to a year ago.

The airline has fuel stock to see it through till December, Hill told reporters at a press briefing last week.

FitsAir will be operating three dry-leased Airbus A320-200 aircraft on these routes, offering 156 economy seats and eight slightly upgraded seats, which it calls Economy Plus. There will be no business class seating, noted Hill.

“We are offering a no-frills product at very competitive prices, while restricting ourselves to South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations, countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Southeast Asia,” he said.

A round trip to Dubai would cost around $510, while a trip without checked-in baggage would be around $480. An economy plus return ticket would cost around $764.

The Journey From ExpoAir to FitsAir

Before its debut as a regional scheduled passenger airline, FitsAir launched in 1997 as ExpoAir, operating international cargo charters to the Maldives, Pakistan, India, United Arab Emirates, Thailand and other places.

The airline in its website claims that it “is the first privately operated Sri Lankan Airline to be licensed for international cargo operations by the Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).”

In June 2002, FitsAir expanded its operations from cargo to daily scheduled domestic passenger flights, for which it leased a 96-seater twin aisled aircraft, flying from Colombo to Jaffna.

In 2003, the airline invested in three 50-seater aircraft and increased the daily frequency of flights to six.

Servicing Top Source Markets

India has been the key source market for Sri Lanka, even at the time of crisis and FitsAir will be working to service various sectors in India.

Indian inbound arrivals to Sri Lanka have touched 80,000 so far till August. With hopes to double the number of Indian arrivals by next year, Sri Lanka Tourism conducted roadshows in three Indian cities of New Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad last week.

Between January and August, Sri Lanka has so far welcomed 496,430 international tourists and India makes up 16 percent of the total tourist arrivals in Sri Lanka. The country hopes to welcome 1 million tourists by the end of this year.

Sri Lanka has so far generated tourism revenue to the tune of $900 million and Tourism Minister Harin Fernando said they would work to double this number by the end of the year.

In 2018, an impressive 2.3 million tourists had visited Sri Lanka, generating $4 billion in tourism revenues for the nation’s coffers.

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Tags: asia monthly, aviation, emirates air, sri lanka, SriLankan Airlines

Photo credit: Sri Lanka now has a new international carrier FitsAir. Twitter

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