Sri Lanka’s flag carrier SriLankan Airlines turns 43

Connecting world to Emerald Island
/ New Delhi
Sri Lanka’s flag carrier SriLankan Airlines turns 43

With an all-Airbus fleet of 24 aircraft, SriLankan flies to 119 cities in 60 countries across continents through direct and codeshare operations

Launched in 1979, SriLankan Airlines completes 43 years of flying, connecting the island nation in South Asia to the rest of the world. The airline has undergone many evolutions over the decades and is poised on another change in the near future.
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On September 1, 1979, SriLankan Airlines, the national carrier of Sri Lanka, began flying when its first aircraft took off from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo for Bangkok in Thailand.

Over the past 43 years, the sole airline in the Emerald Island has grown manifold and undergone many changes to emerge as one of the leading carriers in South Asian region.

With an all-Airbus fleet of 24 aircraft, SriLankan flies to 119 cities in 60 countries across continents through direct and codeshare operations. SriLankan Airlines is the only airline to operate direct flights between Colombo and several global metropolises like London, Paris, Frankfurt, Melbourne, Sydney, and Tokyo, enabling socio-economic ties with these markets.

Its domination of the traffic between SriLanka and other countries can be seen from the fact that over 95 pc of passengers transiting via Bandaranaike International Airport are carried by SriLankan Airlines and SriLankan remains the most frequently booked airline to travel to Sri Lanka. SriLankan also dominates the traffic between Sri Lanka and its largest tourism source market – India, with its direct flights from Colombo to several key cities in India, notably in southern India and also in the neighbouring Maldives. Vis a vis India, which is also SriLankan Airlines’ largest market, the flag carrier has already mounted capacity that is now rapidly returning to the pre-pandemic levels.

Naturally, SriLankan has played a central role in introducing Sri Lanka and the country’s heritage to discerning international travellers from around the island, helping the island emerge as a paradisiacal destination.

Between 1979 and now, SriLankan has served over 89 million passenger journeys for both local and foreign passengers – more than four times the total population of Sri Lanka. For a country currently undergoing one of the worst economic crisis, SriLankan Airlines has also been a key foreign currency earner for Sri Lanka as over 85 per cent of its revenue is earned in foreign currency from international markets.

SriLankan Airlines has also powered economic activity across the supply chain of the travel and tourism trade of Sri Lanka. This includes creating jobs and supporting the livelihoods, even if indirectly, for thousands employed in the sector.

Aside from passenger services, strategic business units of the airline such as SriLankan Cargo and SriLankan Engineering have all progressively contributed to the organisation and country. SriLankan Cargo stepped up its operations to fly essential goods and facilitated trade to and from Sri Lanka in the absence of other operators during the pandemic and effectively allowed the airline to redeploy resources for cargo operations in ensuring the survival of the airline as passenger travel ceased.

SriLankan Cargo has transported a whopping volume of over 1 million metric tonnes across borders solely in the past 10 years. Similarly, SriLankan Engineering has amped its profile in the region and beyond for providing outstanding third-party maintenance services for other airlines; sealed many new contracts including five signed just this year; and earned several million dollars in the process.

Nevertheless, the path leading up to the 43rd anniversary of the national carrier has been a rollercoaster of sorts with many challenges along the way. Recently, the Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Minister suggested that the government was looking to sell 49 pc stake in SriLankan Airlines to a private partner, while retaining majority control with 51 pc stake.

“For the past four decades, we have been flag bearers of the nation through thick and thin. SriLankan Airlines has not only prevailed through each challenging chapter that the country has had to navigate through, but endeavored to help the country back on its feet. From sustaining travel and trade links between Sri Lanka and the world as other airlines cut back on flights to Sri Lanka due to the country’s ongoing economic crisis to bringing down stranded Sri Lankans home during the thick of the pandemic in the recent past, SriLankan has always been a pillar of strength to the nation. The resilience of our legacy is really the resilience of our people, and I would like to thank every employee of SriLankan Airlines for their show of dedication and commitment that has seen us through difficult times,” says Ashok Pathirage, Chairman of SriLankan Airlines.

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