By Nishel Fernando
The government should focus on formulating a competitive cost structure for airlines in terms of airport charges combined with a smooth passenger handling process by capitalising on digital technology at the airport in order for Sri Lanka to position itself as a sustainable tourist destination, according to a top official of Air France – KLM.
“If you want to become a sustainable tourist destination, you need to have a competitive charge. The airport charge is a big chunk of operational cost of an airline. If you have a high airport charge, it makes it difficult for an airline to break even with the operations. If you want to help the destination, you have to lower the cost structure to a decent cost base,”Air France – KLM, General Manager for Indian Sub-Continent, Jean-Noel Rault said in an interview with Mirror Business in Colombo recently.
He pointed out that certain airport charges such as landing charges remain 30-40 percent higher at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) when compared to main airports in India.
After a lapse of 27 years, Air France launched direct flights between Colombo and Paris on November 5 targeting the winter season. Although, Sri Lanka has been successful in safely opening its borders for tourists, which was a key reason for Air France to resume operations after nearly three decades, Rault urged the authorities to re-look at the cost structure at the main airport in order to attract more international airlines.
“If you want to attract airlines to this country, you need to come up with an eco-system that is competitive in terms of cost. Future of operations will be fully depending on the fact that we can generate revenue covering our costs of operations. If the costs are higher than revenue, then the whole operation will be at a risk,” he elaborated.
Further, he pointed out that certain airports are offering exemptions in taxes and other charges to attract new airlines to their countries. He emphasised that such exemption allows airlines to reduce risks related to opening up new routes.
Although, the government provided certain exemptions in charges at secondary international airports such as Mattala and Ratmalana, Rault said that BIA is a safer bet for Air France located near Colombo, for the moment.
Meanwhile, Rault also advised authorities to focus on smoother and swifter handling of passengers at BIA by maximising the utilisation of latest digital technologies available to position itself as a sustainable tourist destination. “When you arrive having flown 10 hours, then one hour in the line may not be the nicest experience,” he added. He pointed out that Europe has been successful by adopting digital tools in handling passenger departures and arrivals at a much faster rate.
Sharing its future plans for operations in Sri Lanka, Rault remarked that the priority is to have a successful first winter with tourist inflows and then to sustain the volumes in the second winter.