Russia’s Azur Air to resume flights to SL

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Russian registered private airline Azur Air has agreed to make a comeback carrying Russian tourists to Sri Lanka after a lapse of nearly three years, but has urged Sri Lanka to ensure that there would be no fuel shortage which could impact their operations.

In their discussions with Sri Lankan officials, Azur Air stated that they would keep an eye on the fuel supply on 22 September, that would, according to the government, provide 100 per cent of refueling for aircraft at the Bandaranaike International Airport. Udayanga Weeratunge, who spearheaded bringing Russian visitors to Sri Lanka, during the pandemic, after striking an agreement with the Aeroflot, indicated that the Azur will begin its operations after observing the fuel status quo as it did not want to land in other countries for refueling, in the backdrop of war between Russia and Ukraine continuing.

The Russian State-run Aeroflot, which stopped operating to Sri Lanka due to a dispute, has also indicated that it will resume flights once the Irish lessor’s law suit is over.

Sri Lanka has granted permission for Aeroflot operations and there is no dispute in flying to Sri Lanka, but due to the controversial halting of their aircraft by Sri Lankan authorities three months ago, Aeroflot said they will not fly Russian tourists to Sri Lanka.

In response to a contentious suspension of their airline three months ago, the State-run Russian airline Aeroflot withdrew from Sri Lanka. In an effort to draw Russian tourists to Sri Lanka for the winter, Sri Lankan officials, including the General Sales Agent of Maldiviana, approached Aeroflot, a rival of Azur Air.

When Russia started a war with Ukraine, Celestial Aviation Trading Limited, an Irish business, that was Aeroflot’s lessor, halted the airline and demanded the return of the Airbus. Due to sanctions imposed by the European Union, all Irish lessors ended their leasing agreements with Russian airlines in order to reclaim their aircraft. The Irish firm’s lawyer filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal after the Irish company representative’s lawsuit was dismissed by the Colombo Supreme Court.

Aeroflot currently offers two daily flights to the Maldives, and Sri Lanka is trying to get those flights to stop in Sri Lanka as well with Russian tourists who frequently travel in the winter.

Weeratunga said Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardane verbally promised that there would be no stops or delays of any type for Aeroflot’s arrival the next time. Weeratunga claims that Aeroflot, which is currently involved in a legal dispute, will wait until after the final judgment is delivered to begin flying to Sri Lanka.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan