SL govt had no role in grounding Russian flight at Colombo airport: AG tells court

A Russian Aeroflot Airbus SU 289 from Moscow, which landed on Thursday with 191 passengers and 13 crew members onboard, was stopped from leaving the Colombo International Airport following an order obtained from the Colombo Commercial High Court by Irish aircraft leasing company, Celestial Aviation Trading.

The court order to ground the Russian passenger aircraft was obtained over a commercial dispute with the Irish aircraft leasing company which leased the aircraft to Aeroflot. The passengers and the crew had been diverted to local hotels.

Following tough Western sanctions over Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s flagship carrier had suspended all international flights in March but had resumed operations to Colombo in April. With the sanction, Russia had instructed its airlines operating rental planes registered in foreign countries cease flights abroad, to avoid the seizure of the planes in connection with the sanctions.

When the case resumed on Friday, Sri Lanka’s Attorney General through Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Sumathi Dharmawardena informed the court that the Sri Lankan government had no direct connection with the civil suit between the Russian and Irish companies, and it was not involved in grounding of the aircraft.

ASG Dharmawardena informed the court that the enjoining order was not against Sri Lanka’s Airport and Aviation Services which was made a defendant in the case. The ASG complained that the Irish company had obtained the order to ground the Russian flight, misleading the courts.

Aeroflot told the court that the issue had already created a serious national and international embarrassment with foreign media reporting it. It stated that the issue came up at a time when Sri Lanka has given an assurance and there is a state guarantee to Russia that its aircraft could be flown to the country.

The Russian national career told the court that the grounding of its flight cost it nearly $1 million in daily costs with Special Drawing Rights (SDR) amounting to $5600 per passenger per day.

While European Union leaders are in talks to impose fresh round of sanctions against Russia over the attacks on Ukraine, Sri Lanka, facing a power crisis with the worst ever post-independent economic crisis, is in talks with Russia to obtain fuel.

The island nation is awaiting a 90,000-tonne consignment from Russia to restart the country’s only oil refinery, which has been closed since March 25 with no oil.