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Bankrupt Sri Lanka looks to expand airline fleet

COLOMBO (AFP) – Cash-strapped Sri Lanka’s loss-making national carrier revealed plans to lease up to 21 aircraft, just two days after the government announced a default on its USD51 billion foreign debt.

The island nation is in the grip of its most painful economic downturn since independence in 1948, with severe shortages of essential goods and regular blackouts causing widespread misery.

Huge protests have called for the resignation of the government, which has begged Sri Lankans abroad to send cash home to help pay for essential imports.

Despite the crisis, state-owned Sri Lankan Airlines has unveiled plans to expand its fleet from 24 to 35 planes in the next three years and replace some of its ageing jets.

“Sri Lankan Airlines has issued four requests for proposal to lease up to 21 aircraft to support its long-term business strategy,” it said in a brief statement.

The announcement came after the government suspended repayment of all its foreign borrowings, ahead of negotiations for a debt restructure with the International Monetary Fund next week. The national carrier did not say how it planned to finance the leases, with its balance sheet showing a USD1.7 billion debt and a carried forward loss of USD1.56 billion in March 2020.