Sri Lanka is delaying by two weeks the August 1 scheduled reopening of Colombo International Airport for commercial traffic, as the government prioritises the repatriation of over 46,000 Sri Lankans stranded abroad.

In making the announcement, tourism minister Prasanna Ranatunga told reporters: “We won’t permit tourists till we complete the process (of repatriation).”

Meanwhile, SriLankan Airlines (SLA) is considering flying to a couple of new destinations like Seoul and Sydney, while expanding its China network, as it prepares for the reopening for commercial traffic in August, national carrier chairman Ashok Pathirage told a recent media briefing.

“We plan to resume flights from August, but we may not go back to the same destinations,” he said, adding that at some point, they plan to resume flights to Frankfurt, which was discontinued some years ago. London is the only destination in Europe the airline travels to.

Before the pandemic, the airline had regular flights to Beijing, Shanghai and Canton, while operating to Melbourne.

SLA is eagerly awaiting the reopening of the Maldives on July 15, being the largest carrier to operate flights there, added Pathirage.

The airline’s largest traffic comes from India, Sri Lanka’s biggest source market, with 140 flights a week to its South Asia neighbour.

To battle losses owing to the pandemic, the airline has sent 407 contract staff on no-pay leave, cut salaries and dismissed 500 outsourced workers, saving about $30 million rupees (US$397,000) a year in costs. It is also planning a voluntary retirement scheme to reduce its in-house staff of 6,000 by about 500 workers.

The cash-strapped airline saw revenues fall to US$20 million a month, compared to US$80 million in the pre-Covid-19 period. The airline made a loss of US$130 million last year and is seeking a government guarantee to raise US$75 million from the international market.