The Sri Lankan government has whittled down the list of prospective strategic partners for national carrier SriLankan Airlines (UL, Colombo Int'l) from nine to three State Enterprise Development Minister Kabir Hashim has announced.

Speaking at a press conference late last week, Hashim said the three shortlisted bidders included Texas Pacific Group (TPG), PeaceAir Pvt Ltd, and the Maldivian company Super Group Partners.

Each of the candidates' proposals for a 49% stake in SriLankan Airlines will be scrutinised over the coming weeks with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to make a decision by mid-February, he said.

According to the Lanka Mirror, Hashim added that should none of the proposals be found suitable, a three-man interministerial committee including himself, Minister of Development Strategies & International Trade, Malik Samarawickrama, and Minister for Special Assignments, Sarath Amunugama, had been appointed to oversee the issuance of a second Request For Proposals (RFP).

Hashim also confirmed that while Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad Int'l) had expressed an interest in the airline when the privatisation process was first announced, it had not submitted any bid following the RFP's floatation.

As it stands, Colombo is pursuing an urgent finalisation to the contract given the strain the carrier's USD1+ billion debt burden has placed on the national fiscus.

Among the cost-cutting measures implemented thus far are the cancellation of an agreement with AerCap to lease four A350-900s. A similar cancellation agreement with Airbus (AIB, Toulouse Blagnac) concerning four more A350s, due to be delivered from 2020 onwards, will also be negotiated Hashim confirmed.