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Sri Lankan Airlines records 80% recovery this year

National carrier Sri Lankan Airlines will be recording a recovery to pre-pandemic revenue levels by the end of this year as the government is expected to relax air travel restrictions, chairman of the airline, Ashok Pathirage revealed.

The state-owned airline's revenue would recover to 75-80 per cent of pre-crisis levels by end 2021 as the island plans to reopen its international airports fully for travellers soon.

The national carrier plans to return to profitability by 2022 with the gradual improvement in aviation, travel and tourism," he said.

Sri Lanka's government has pledged USD 500 million in financial aid, of which USD 150m was disbursed this month to help its flag carrier weather the crisis, Pathirage said, adding that the rest of the funds will be disbursed over two years.

SriLankan Airlines, which recorded about USD 70m a month in revenue pre-crisis, is currently making about 30% - 35% of that, the chairman said.

He expects a recovery to 40% of pre-Covid revenue levels soon on higher demand for repatriation flights and air cargo.

SriLankan Airlines is currently operating a limited number of passenger flights using 70% of its all-Airbus fleet of A330s, A320s and A321s, while the remaining 30% of aircrafts are still grounded.

To preserve cash and control costs, the airline re-negotiated its aircraft leasing contracts, leading to savings of about USD 150m over the next five years, the chairman said.

The carrier offered 500 employees a voluntary retirement scheme a week ago, after ending the use of outsourced and contract workers, he said. This will reduce the workforce to 5,000 from 7,000.

"After Covid, SriLankan Airlines will be in much better shape to return to profitability," he said, adding that "Our plan is to make money by 2022."

The operator is planning new routes next year to Sydney, Seoul, Kathmandu and European cities, the chairman said. It is seeking to resume flights into India, one of its key markets, and increase frequencies to Dhaka.

In terms of cargo, the airline is seeking to triple or quadruple its freight volumes over the next two years to reduce reliance on passenger operations, Pathirage said.

To drive its cargo expansion, the airline is preparing a request for proposals (RFP) to procure its first two freighters, he added.

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