The country’s transport minister said that he would not arrest any Russian aircraft.

Sri Lankan transport minister Bandula Gunawardana pledged not to arrest any Russian-flagged aircraft as part of talks for a new agreement between the two countries. The announcement comes nine months after an incident involving the grounding of an Aeroflot aircraft. Let’s take a closer look at the incident and see what the agreement entails.

The Aeroflot incident

An Aeroflot Airbus A330-300 was grounded by air traffic control at Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (CMB) in June of last year due to a commercial dispute which later turned out to be a court order demanding the immediate seizure of the aircraft. The incident took place rather abruptly after passengers had already boarded. Everyone onboard the aircraft were asked to disembark and were put up in hotels.

 The reason for the court order ultimately ended up being a request for an injunction by the Irish owner of the aircraft following the termination of its lease in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The government of Russia retaliated by summoning the Sri Lankan ambassador to Moscow and suspending flights to the South Asian country for four months. Aeroflot has since resumed service to Sri Lanka.

 The practice of suspending lease agreements is one that became increasingly common during the early days of the war in Ukraine as foreign lessors terminated contracts with Russian airlines. Airbus and Boeing even went so far as to cut off manufacturing and maintenance for Russian operators. As a result, such carriers were forced to cannibalize older aircraft for spare parts to conduct routine service and maintenance.

Russian tourists constitute a significant proportion of travelers to Sri Lanka, with almost 92,000 visitors in 2022. Russia also recently overtook India and the United Kingdom to become the top source market for tourists in Sri Lanka.

Other airlines offering service between Sri Lanka and Russia include Azul Airlines and Red Wings Airlines. It is worth noting that between the two carriers, only Azul Air flies to Colombo; Red Wings, on the other hand, flies to Hambantota.

A potential new agreement

Fortunately for both countries, their governments are in the process of coming to an agreement that would guarantee the mobility of Russian aircraft through Sri Lanka in exchange for food and fertilizer. The arrangement could not come at a better time for Sri Lanka, which is currently in the midst of an economic crisis that has exacerbated a pre-existing food crisis. However, it is important to note that no agreement has been reached yet, so nothing is guaranteed for either country.

With regard to the agreement, Gunawardana promised,

 “There will be no risk of arrests in the future”

(Simple Flying)


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