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Monday, July 22, 2024

Airline Startup Of The Week: Sri Lanka’s Spark Air

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Sri Lanka will be getting a new airline as of February 2021. The new startup, Spark Air, first plans to launch with cargo operations before expanding to carry passengers from the South Asian nation. These activities will be carried out with two dry-leased Airbus A330s.

A330 MRTT Getafe
The new airline startup will utilize two leased Airbus A330 jets. Photo; Airbus

Conditions in Sri Lanka conducive to expanding aviation

According to Sri Lankan media outlet DailyFT, Spark Air’s Uditha Danawatta spoke to journalists in Colombo recently. Danwatte, the airline’s Air Head of Safety Management Systems Captain, says that the new upcoming airline was conceived by four former senior captains with SriLankan Airlines and other international airlines, citing a conducive environment to expand aviation in Sri Lanka.

Monetary investments will come from both local and foreign investors, although the amount has not been disclosed.

“With this pandemic situation we have to diversify operations and not just focus on passengers. There is a huge demand for cargo and this was one of the reasons we decided to go ahead with the project. As per our plan we have many destinations in mind including even Los Angeles and it covers Asia, Europe, Africa and the Far East. We have also received enquiries for transit cargo,” -Captain Uditha Danawatta, Spark Air via DailyFT

Airline representatives say that leasing companies have slashed prices providing an excellent opportunity for the startup.

Furthermore, Danawatta says that the new Sri Lankan government has been very supportive of this new startup, adding that there is a plan for new facility development, which will drive aviation development. “We also have a very positive Director General of Aviation, who is keen to develop aviation in the country.”

SriLankan A330 at LHR March 2011
Former senior captains with flag carrier SriLankan were cited as being among the founding members. Photo: Allen Watkin via Flickr

What is happening with the airline now?

It’s probably quite generous to call Spark Air an airline now as it still has a long way to go before flying aircraft and generating revenue.

We know that a public notice has been released for Spark Air’s applications for an Air Operator Certificate and Airline License.  These will need to be obtained to conduct International regular Transport Operations and Charter Operations carrying passengers, cargo, and mail. The new airline intends to go international right from the beginning, without any plans to operate domestically.

As mentioned above, Spark Air will launch with cargo operations first. However, the startup hopes to also provide MRO (Maintenance, Repair, and Overhaul) services out of the southern airport of Mattala Rajapaksa Hambantota Airport. Also at Mattala will be an office for Spark Air. The company will also have an office in Colombo – the nation’s capital.

Danwatta adds that this will employ over 2,000 highly-skilled locals. Recruitment for some of the company’s services and operations is expected to take place in December.

Air Italy Airbus A330-200 EI-GFX
Launching an airline is challenging work and carries a significant amount of financial risk. Photo: BriYYZ Wikimedia Commons 

Providing more capacity for the country?

The airline says that the national carrier, SriLankan, does not have the capacity to ‘cater to everyone’ with its 26 aircraft and 7,000 staff. Danawatta compares and contrasts this with AirAsia, which has 110 aircraft and 2,500 staff. “How can SriLankan make profits? The management has clearly not been successful,” he says.

Danawatta goes on to cite the high frequency and capacity offered by Qatar Airways as justification for another airline:

“[SriLankan] was lagging with incompetent people; the right people must go for the right job. Qatar Airways flew five times a week to Colombo from Doha using 777 and [A]340 aircraft. They are carrying all our passengers when we could get those passengers into our airlines. Why are we giving all that money to Qatar? But SriLankan cannot cater to that requirement with the available number of aircraft. We can explore operations to many other destinations, it does not have to be destinations already serviced by SriLankan.” -Captain Uditha Danawatta, Spark Air via DailyFT

Qatar Boeing 777-300 Getty
Qatar Airways’ high frequency (pre-crisis) between Colombo and Doha is cited as evidence of healthy demand. Photo: Getty Images

From the Simple Flying perspective, this premise is a little bit flawed. Yes, there may have been a respectable demand for travel between Colombo and Doha. However, it’s almost guaranteed that a large portion of that passenger traffic was connecting through Doha and traveling onwards to other destinations in Qatar Airways‘ expansive and diverse global network.

Therefore, unless Sri Lanka’s airlines are willing to do the same, it seems unfair to use only Qatar’s frequency to justify the new airline. If Spark Air can identify and secure the most lucrative international routes for both cargo and passengers, and utilize its A330s for them, it might just have a chance at success.

What do you think of the remarks made by Spark Air representatives? Is this indeed a good opportunity? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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