Yet to receive information from the airline: Airport Director

Budget airline, Mihin Lanka, has decided to withdraw its flights on the Colombo-Tiruchi-Colombo sector effective June 1 on account of a steep fall in load factor of the flights.

The anti-Sri Lankan government protests on the Eelam issue here and the travel advisory issued by the island nation asking its nationals to avoid travel to Tamil Nadu are cited as the reasons for the fall in incoming passengers from Sri Lanka. Sri Lankan pilgrims travelling to Velankanni and Thanjavur have been attacked by pro-Eelam activists in recent months.

The airline operates four flights a week on the Colombo-Tiruchi-Colombo sector. S.K.Mittal, Executive Director, Translanka Air Travels, Tamil Nadu, the general sales agent (GSA) of Mihin Lanka, told The Hindu that the airline has decided to withdraw all the four flights to Tiruchi, effective June 1, following a drop in the load factor. However, the airline has not said whether the flights are being withdrawn temporarily or it is a permanent move.

Answering a query, Mr.Mittal said the GSA office representing Mihin Lanka in the city will also be closed. The office in the city was stormed by a group of pro-Eelam protestors recently.

The load factor of the flights of the airline, which operates Airbus 320 and 321 aircraft of the sector with passenger capacities of 180 and 210 seats respectively, is reported to have fallen to about 30 to 40 per cent of late.

However, Airport Director S.Dharmaraj, when contacted, said he has not received any information, either official or informal, about the withdrawal of services from airline.

Enquiries revealed that the Sri Lankan Airlines, the main operator on the Colombo-Tiruchi-Colombo sector, has also suffered a fall in load factor in in-coming passengers from Sri Lanka. “There has been a fall in Sri Lankans visiting Tamil Nadu for pilgrimage and holiday purposes, especially to Velankanni and temples,” an airport source said.

But the airline manages to pull on as it carries a large number of transit passengers from Tiruchi to Middle East via Colombo.

While the morning flight operates with a high load of in-coming passengers from Middle East to Tiruchi via Colombo, the afternoon flight carries the out-bound transit passengers bound for countries in the Middle East who take connecting flights from Colombo.

Another important factor, the sources said, is the drop in the number of small-time traders who travel regularly to Colombo from here carrying textile and other goods. With tighter vigil by Customs authorities in Chennai and Tiruchi, many of the traders now prefer to travel on Mihin Lanka from Madurai, the sources claimed.