SriLankan Airlines to operate three weekly cargo freighters to Maldives

SriLankan Airlines is to operate three weekly cargo freighters to Maldives.

From May 18, the flagship carrier of neighbouring Sri Lanka will operate special cargo flights to 17 destinations from Colombo.

These include three weekly flights to Male; two flights a week to Chennai, Hong Kong, Singapore, London, Doha, Dubai, Melbourne, Beijing, Guangzhou (Canton), and Shanghai; and one weekly flight each to Mumbai, Karachi, Lahore, Dhaka, Frankfurt, and Tokyo (Narita).

The airline’s existing fleet of Airbus A320 and A330 aircraft will be utilised for the flights and SriLankan has enhanced the cargo carrying capacity of the aircraft beyond the usual capacity of the cargo holds.

“We have no doubt that every single export industry will benefit from this bold initiative that we plan to launch on May 18, at a time when most other airlines are keeping their fleets grounded and global trade by air is under a lockdown situation,” chairman Ashok Pathirage was quoted in a statement, as saying.

“The [Sri Lankan] government is extremely keen on restarting the country’s export industries at the earliest possible moment, and we at SriLankan Airlines have been intent on restarting our services from the day that we reluctantly suspended regular operations in the face of the global pandemic.”

The airline has been operating on-demand cargo freighters to the Maldives to transport essential medical equipment and supplies, as well as staple food items.

Sri Lanka’s main domestic airline FitsAir also operates a weekly cargo service between Colombo and Male.

Turkish Airlines also operates two weekly cargo freighters to the Maldives from Istanbul.

Maldives flag carrier Maldivian operates weekly cargo freighters to several destinations, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and Dubai, from the main Velana International Airport.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.

All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.

Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.

However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.

However, the government is at present projecting a possible 13 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 897.

Three deaths have been reported and 31 have made full recoveries.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, schools, colleges and universities.

Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

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