Sri Lankan Airlines – National Flag Barer

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Sri Lankan Airlines has been the flag bearer of Sri Lanka for 40 years, been the national carrier it has carried the Sri Lankan flag high and proud into the skies.

It is undoubtedly one of the best airlines in South Asia and has won many accolades through the years serving many passengers to and from Sri Lanka.

In this 40 year journey, it has had its ups and downs, but, Sri Lankan Airlines have overcome all obstacles and emerged as one of the top Airlines in the region. 

When we take a look at how it all began, in the year of 1978, Sri Lanka’s first Airline, Air Ceylon was closed up, and it saw the birth of Air Lanka in July 1979. At the start, the new air carrier operated two Boeing 707 jets on lease from Singapore Airlines.

Gradually they expanded, and during the 1980s, the Airline increased the number of destinations served and made additions to its fleet. By the year of 1990, Air Lanka served 26 destinations and they went onto purchase its first Airbus A320 in December 1992.

In 1998 Sri Lankan Govt. decided to part-privatize Air Lanka to the Emirates Group. Sri Lankan Government and Emirates signed an agreement for a ten-year strategic partnership.

This agreement included exclusive rights for all aircraft ground handling and airline catering at Colombo-Bandaranaike airport for a decade. Emirates bought a 40% stake worth US$70 million in Air Lanka.

With the involvement of Emirates, the Airline flourished and became one of the best airlines in the region.

The Government retained a majority stake in the Airline but gave full control to Emirates for investment and management decisions. After taking over in 1998, Emirates decided to change the name from Air Lanka to Sri Lankan Airlines.

SriLankan Airlines under Emirates upstaged their fleet with six Airbus A330-200s adding to its fleet of Airbus A340-300 and A320-200 aircraft. The new A330-200 units joined the Airline between October 1999 and July 2000.

The company’s fourth A340-300 arrived at Colombo painted in the Airline’s new corporate livery. SriLankan Airlines also upgraded its existing A340 fleet into a two-class configuration (business and economy class) while overhauling the interior to reflect the new corporate image.

As mentioned before, the road was tough for the company. It affected by the SARS outbreak, 2004 Tsunami and the 30-year-old Civil War. On the 24th of July 2001, a terrorist attack which saw 6 aircraft grounded which took a huge toll on the Airline.

After a very successful nine years of partnership with the Emirates, under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, the govt decided to terminate the work visa of then CEO Peter Hill.

The reason behind this incident was that the CEO did not allow 35 passengers to be offloaded to accommodate The President and his entourage.

Emirates notified the Govt that they would not continue the agreement stating that the govt was seeking more control of the management.

Since then, Sri Lankan Airlines have been struggling to gain any profits due to mismanagement. It recorded that they last showed a profit in the year 2009. However, Their fleet has expanded by adding 7 Airbus A330-300 aircraft in the year 2014.

Under the Leadership of then CEO Kapila Chandrasena, Sri Lankan made an order of 8 Airbus A350-900 aircraft. Half of the order cancelled in 2016 after the company realized they could not turn these flights into profitable ones. The cancellation cost the Airline US$ 105 Million.

However, they added six more narrow-body aircraft in the year 2017. It included 2 Airbus A320neo and 4 Airbus A321 Neo. Currently, the fleet is at 27 with 13 narrow-body aircraft and 14 wide-body aircraft.

Currently, Sri Lankan Airlines is flying to 113 destinations in 51 countries. It is also a member of the One World Alliance which widens the options for the passengers.

The current Chief Executive Officer, Mr Vipula Gunatilake, has been serving the Airline for many years. The newly appointed Chairmen of the board of directors is Mr Ashok Pathirage, who is a very successful businessman in Sri Lanka.

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