Air Transport World

Air Lanka struggles under national burden.

Air Lanka struggles under national burden

Everything seemed to be going right for Air Lanka in its first five years of existence. Created in 1979 by order of Sri Lankan President J.R. Jayawardene as the nation's flag airline to replace the defunct Air Ceylon, the new carrier quickly effaced the mediocre reputation of the Sri Lankan air transport industry. Initially helped by Singapore Airlines, Air Lanka became the fastest growing carrier in Asia with standards matching those of the continent's best (ATW, 4/83).

But the ethnic violence which broke out is Sri Lanka in 1983 stunted Air Lanka's growth and its escalation in the snsuing years had a disastrous effect on the airline. The flow of tourists to the "Paradise Island' --the airline called itself "A Touch of Paradise' in it's advertising--slowed as foreigners became aware of the troubles which some media depicted as a virtual civil war. The entire Sri Lankan economy, heavily dependent on tourism, suffered and Air Lanka--which carries about half of the tourist traffic--was badly affected.

Tourism falling

When the troubles broke out Air Lanka had already completed arrangements for a massive increase in capacity by the purchase of two Boeing 747s from Quantas to supplement its fleet of five Lockheed L-1011s and one Boeing 737. This program was realistic in view of the huge growth in tourism to Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. And in view of government support for the construction of many new hotels in Colombo, aimed to make Colombo the leading conference city in Asia.

But when the first 747 arrived in mid-1984 troubles resulted in the expected traffic growth not materializing. When the second 747 arrived in 1985 the situation was even worse. The only solution was to reduce capacity. This was done by the leasing of Air Lanka's two L-1011-500s to British Airways for three years (until April 1988). …

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