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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Crisis on Sri Lankan bilateral air services agreement with Oman

By Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera

A high-powered Sri Lankan delegation began talks yesterday on the bilateral air services agreement with Oman officials in Muscat aimed at breaking a deadlock over Oman Air's resumption of flights to Colombo, officials said.

The delegation comprising Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary Ranjit Silva, Foreign Ministry Additional Secretary Chitranganie Wagiswara, SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickremesinghe, two senior Civil Aviation officials and a representative from the Attorney General's Department, arrived in Muscat and on the same day went into talks with Oman officials.

There was no official confirmation as to whether the dispute over the number of flights allocated to Oman Air had been resolved amid claims and counterclaims by both sides.

The Sunday Times last week exclusively reported that Oman authorities were threatening to cancel the bilateral agreement, in force since the 1980s, stop SriLankan Airlines flights to Oman and block the use of the airspace by the national carrier to fly to other destinations.Oman, whose airline was to resume flights on October 10 but postponed the launch due to delays in approval from Sri Lanka's Civil Aviation Department, wants Colombo to abide by the agreed seven flights a week (for both airlines) in terms of the agreement.

Sri Lanka is willing to agree to two flights a week, which SriLankan Airlines does every week, saying there is no demand for more flights on this sector. Civil Aviation authorities also contend that there is provision in the agreement to re-negotiate the number of flights based on the demand. Oman says any re-negotiation must be agreed upon by both parties.

Sources at Oman Air said agreement had been reached, after yesterday's talks that both sides would stick to the agreement and that the Oman national carrier would be allowed seven flights a week. However SriLankan Airlines officials, who declined to be named, said no agreement had been reached and the negotiations were continuing.

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