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Sri Lanka to sign open skies agreements with 20 nations in bid to liberalize aviation industry

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Sri Lanka bared plans to sign open skies bilateral air service agreements with 20 strategically-located countries and examine current airport taxes, with the goals of liberalizing the aviation industry and increasing tourism arrivals.

Sri Lanka CAA’s Director General and CEO, H. M. C. Nimalsiri, said that CAA plans to sign open skies agreements with countries such as Singapore, India, UAE, UK, Turkey and The Netherlands during the upcoming International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) Air Services Negotiation Event (ICAN2017) in Colombo this December.

“We have adopted a policy of going for open skies agreements in terms of the 4th and 5th freedoms, which allow basic international service between two countries. However, when it comes to the 5th freedom, which allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries, as a part of services connecting the airline’s registered country, our openness is based on the principles of reciprocity, only where we are also being offered the same option,” Nimalsiri explained.

He emphasized that the CAA selected tourism as a priority when choosing these 20 countries and ICAN2017 would be a great chance to promote Sri Lanka as a tourist hub.

“We want such freedoms to be opened without any restrictions, promoting a particular route segment. We want to be as liberal as possible by removing capacity restrictions; hence we can promote travel between these destinations,” the CAA boss said.

He went on to say that more carriers would offer a better transport arrangement for passengers and that would lead passengers to choose Sri Lanka as the best route for air travel.

Commenting on the chances of Sri Lanka transforming into an aviation hub, Nimalsiri said that would necessitate comprehensive marketing. However, he stressed that Sri Lanka could not carry out such an extensive task by itself.

He said that once international carriers start flying to Sri Lanka with daily operations, the carriers would conduct the required marketing by themselves, taking away the need for more expenses for the government, thus paving the way for Sri Lanka to become an aviation hub.

Nimalsiri asserted that if the national carrier SriLankan Airlines would be competitive enough, it would be able to obtain a significant share of the aviation market in future.

Nimalsiri admitted that the current airport taxes are high and shared that the CAA raised the issue to the Government and upon acknowledging these concerns, the Government has said it would review the airport taxes by creating a committee very soon. This committee would then determine if the current fares are on par with the regional counterparts.

The Government last year increased Embarkation Levy to US $ 50 from US$30 with the Treasury collecting US$35.

He elaborated that charter flights are discouraged from coming to Sri Lanka as most passengers on charter flights travel on packages and because of the country’s high entry charges, prices of packages to Sri Lanka are much higher compared to other destinations.

“We need to bring down the cost of entry to Sri Lanka and create more opportunities for tourists to spend more during their stay, instead of focusing purely on entry charges.” Nimalsiri said.

Sri Lanka won the bid to host ICAN2017, beating out the UAE. The event offers ICAO members with a centralized meeting place to conduct multiple bilateral air services negotiations or consultations. CAA is also expected to make the most out of this opportunity to renew existing air service agreements, which are about to expire.

Sri Lanka has entered into bilateral air service agreements with a total of 74 countries, only a handful of which are open sky agreements.

“All 72 ICAO Member States have registered for the event and we expect 500-600 foreign delegates to arrive for the event. The delegations will consist of secretaries, aeronautical authorities, airline chairpersons and other senior management,” added Nimalsiri.

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