Ashok Bhattacharjee and Anand Krishnamoorthy, Bloomberg
New Delhi: Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd, Hong Kong’s largest airline, suspended flights to Colombo after Tamil rebels attacked an air base next to the Sri Lankan capital’s international airport.
The Hong Kong-based carrier is continuing to review security at the Bandaranaike International Airport and will decide later when to resume flights, spokeswoman Carolyn Leung said by phone. Singapore Airlines Ltd spokesman Stephen Forshaw said the airline has yet to decide if its flight to Sri Lanka will depart tonight.
The airport shut after Tamil Tigers jets attacked an adjoining air force base, stranding passengers on flights operated by SriLankan, Cathay Pacific and Singapore Airlines. Fighting between Sri Lanka’s military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam escalated last year, halting a peace process to try to end a two-decade conflict that has killed 60,000 people in the South Asian island nation of 20 million people.
SriLankan Airlines said the airport reopened at about 10 am and the local carrier is scheduling flights for this afternoon. “Operations at the airport will soon be normal,” Ruvini Jayasinghe, a spokeswoman for the island’s biggest carrier, said by phone from Colombo.
Civilian facilities and the runway, which the airport shares with the military, weren’t damaged, Jayasinghe said.
“The shutdown was a precautionary step,” she said. “Our crew, aircraft and passengers are safe.”
Colombo airport was the scene of a Tamil Tiger attack in July 2001, which destroyed about half of SriLankan Airlines’ fleet. The airline is 43.6% owned by Emirates Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates.
The island-nation’s government said the attack happened at 12:45 am on Monday. The Tigers attacked with a light aircraft and failed to damage the runway or the nation’s fighter planes, according to a government statement posted on its Web site.
The Tamil Tigers attacked the airbase and Katunayake International Airport in 2001, destroying 13 civilian and military aircraft.
A Cathay Pacific flight with 142 booked passengers and 17 crewmembers was stranded in Colombo, the Hong Kong-based carrier said on its Web site. All the passengers and crew were safe and being looked after by the airline staff, it added.
“One flight was on ground in Colombo last night when the attack occurred and was delayed as a result of the airport closure,” Singapore Airlines’s Forshaw said in an e-mailed response to questions. The delay lasted about four hours, he said.
The airline, the world’s largest carrier by market value, is “monitoring the situation” in Colombo, Foreshaw said.
Indian Airlines Ltd will operate its daily service to Colombo from Chennai, southern India, Ashok Sharma, a spokesman for the New Delhi-based carrier said in a phone interview.
— With reporting by Chan Sue Ling in Singapore