In the backdrop of the Russian Foreign Ministry expressing its “resolute protest” over the detention of an Aeroflot aircraft, it is speculated that 2,000 Russians presently in Sri Lanka will have to travel to the Maldives to catch their flight to Russia, as Aeroflot has suspended flights to Colombo, Ceylon Today learns.
Many of the Russian travellers in Sri Lanka will also take connecting flights to Russia from BIA, but the process has to be handled by the Russian tour operator, at their expense, and Aeroflot will pay for the air tickets to the Maldives as well.
According to Udayanga Weeratunga, who facilitated Russian tourists visiting Sri Lanka during the peak of the pandemic, the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) issued a letter signed by its Director General, Captain Themiya Abeywickrama, who assured Director General of the Federal Air Transport Agency of Russia, Alexander V. Naradko that the CAASL “would like to confirm that Russian aircraft will not be detained at airports in Sri Lanka.” A second letter from Russia asking CAASL whether it would not detain Russian-registered Aeroflot, was endorsed by former Foreign Secretary Jayanath Colombage as a Third Party Notice (TPN).
On 16 March, Russia sought a second letter confirming whether Russian-registered aircraft (leased Airbuses) would be detained or not and the Government (CAASL and the Foreign Ministry in this case) assured it will not.
Sri Lankan Ambassador to the Russian Federation J.A. Liyanage was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry to express its displeasure over the incident.
Weeratunga said the CAASL Director General has no right to issue a letter that he would not detain the airplane, nor can the Court issue an order to detain the flight when it’s a case between the lessor and the lessee of the Airbus and that was the reason the restraining order was suspended.
He said CAASL Act No. 38 states that only the CAASL can detain a flight, but at the same time the CAASL cannot issue a letter of guarantee that they will not detain a flight, he said.
He also expressed uncertainty that Russia’s suspension of Aeroflot flights to Colombo will be lifted any time soon, because a Russian aircraft left BIA without passengers, with no action taken by the BIA authorities.
“It’s not a Commercial Court dispute, but it was a diplomatic tussle, where the Government failed to handle the matter diplomatically, and today Russia is in a conundrum whether to consider supporting Sri Lanka during the crisis. The Government should know to balance the country and work amicably with all countries, without creating disputes that would impact people’s lives,” he added.
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan