Fits Air is expanding its aviation business and aims to improve its jet fleet network, says Ammar Kassim, director of FITS Aviation, a unit of Aberdeen Holdings, a Sri Lankan conglomerate with interests in commodities, energy, exports, healthcare, logistics, packaging, technology and more.

In this interview, Ammar tells us how Fits Air became Sri Lanka’s largest private airline and shares his plans for the future, including creating a specialty coffee brand.

Fits Air started 25 years ago and today has established itself as Sri Lanka’s largest national airline that focuses on cargo. What was difficult about it and how has the trip been so far?

Fits Air was founded in 1997, and 25 years later we have grown from a niche airline with a mixed fleet to a regional aviation group with a portfolio of freighters, storage, flight training and international freight.

Fits Air’s airline arm is focused on fleet standardization to achieve a strong unit economy. We are a small, highly focused team, built on pillars of consistent regulatory compliance structures, and we are focused on building and retaining engaged teams around the business. We took business risks with a positive attitude. The future looks exciting! While our core business revolves around air cargo solutions, we have a domestic passenger operation that does charters and our outlook is to grow the passenger business into a regular regional network.

What has been the impact of Covid-19 on Fits Air and how are you navigating this difficult environment in the wake of the pandemic?

The pandemic has put the aviation industry to the test in all markets. We were fortunate to be a very freight-oriented operator. We had many challenges at the start of the epidemic, but luckily we overcame them fairly quickly.

We viewed the pandemic-related supply chain challenges as an opportunity and Fits Air expanded its network. We were a regional airline, mainly serving India and the Maldives. But today we have regular flights to Vietnam, Thailand, Pakistan and Myanmar. We have made extensive improvements to our network, both online and offline. Our offline business has grown significantly.

We now act as a virtual airline loading cargo onto our more than 90 international partner airlines.

What are the factors shaping the future of Fits Air and what do you envision for the airline? What are your growth plans?

We have streamlined our jet fleet program into the Airbus 320 type in 2020 with the intention of developing regional cargo routes. At the fleet level, we will be flying three Airbus A320s by the end of this quarter. Going forward, we are working on a program to transition to an all-cargo fleet for a post-covid world. The first of its kind is expected to be inducted in December this year.

We have traditionally had a presence at Ratmalana Airport, and it is no secret that we hope to launch a regional passenger network from Ratmalana. The city airport will be our hub for hyper-regional destinations. We plan to fly climate-friendly turboprop aircraft to regional short-haul destinations. We model the airline to serve point-to-point traffic with value pricing.

Fits Air is part of Aberdeen Holdings. Can you tell us about the other projects in which you are involved?

Fits Air is part of Aberdeen Holdings, a diversified conglomerate with investments in several categories. I run a business called Fits Express, UPS’s approved contractor in Sri Lanka. Fits Express provides international small package courier, freight forwarding and 3PL (Third Party Logistics) services.

Another company I’m passionate about is Fits Retail, a coffee solutions company representing several top brands of coffee machines. We have our own coffee roasting factory and our brand is Damn Fine Coffee, a Sri Lankan specialty coffee brand. There are the seeds of a mini-revolution taking hold in this category: the revival of a national heritage industry.

I see it as a race to the top! Whoever can produce the highest quality coffee in Sri Lanka – as opposed to chasing quantity – will win. We are investing in the upstream integration of the coffee supply chain with a wet processing plant. Our model is built around the premise of quality coffee. So this is a passionate attempt to create a global brand of Sri Lankan coffee. It’s a 10 year old game.