The History of SriLankan Airlines

The airline operates to 94 destinations from its main hub located at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.

SriLankan Airlines (marketed as SriLankan) is the flag carrier of Sri Lanka. It was launched in 1979 as Air Lanka, following the termination of operations of the original Sri Lankan flag carrier Air Ceylon.

Following its partial acquisition in 1998 by Emirates, it was re-branded and introduced the current livery. After ending the Emirates partnership, it has continued using its re-branded name and logo.

The airline operates to 94 destinations from its main hub located at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo. SriLankan Airlines joined the Oneworld airline alliance on 1 May 2014.


Air Lanka

Air Lanka was established as the flag carrier of Sri Lanka once the Sri Lankan government shut down the bankrupt Air Ceylon. Air Lanka’s initial fleet consisted of two Boeing 707, leased from Singapore Airlines. One Boeing 737 was leased from Maersk Air and maintained by Air Tara. On 24 April 1980, the lease ended; Air Lanka received a replacement Boeing 737 leased from Royal Brunei. On 1 November 1980, Air Lanka commenced wide-body operations with a leased Lockheed L1011-1 Tristar from Air Canada.
On 15 April 1982, Air Lanka received its own L1011 Tristar purchased from All Nippon Airways. With introduction of Tristar aircraft, the Boeing 707s were phased out and sold. Then another L1011 was leased from Air Canada whilst the third L1011 was purchased from All Nippon. On 1 May 1982, HAECO took over the maintenance of the two Air Lanka-owned Tristars, while Air Canada maintained two leased Tristars.

On 28 March 1980, Air Lanka signed a purchase agreement for two brand new Lockheed L1011-500 Tristars, the most advanced wide-body aircraft in the world at that time. The first Lockheed L1011-500 (4R-ULA) was accepted on 26 August 1982, at Palmdale, California. It was flown to Amsterdam as UL flight 566P. On 28 August 4R-ULA “City Of Colombo” left for its inaugural flight from Amsterdam to Colombo as UL566. It reached Colombo on 29 August. This was followed by second Lockheed L1011-500, 4R-ULB, “City Of Jayawardanapura”. On 8 June 1984 the airline received its first Boeing 747-200B “King Vijaya” and the second joined later. The aircraft were used on flights to Europe and a few flights to southeast Asia.

Rebranding

Air Lanka, which was state-owned, was partially privatized in 1998, with investment by Dubai-based Emirates Group, when Emirates and the Sri Lankan government 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 ten-year period. Emirates bought a 40% stake worth US$70 million (which it later increased to 43.6%) in Air Lanka, and sought to refurbish the airline’s image and fleet. The government retained a majority stake in the airline, but gave full control to Emirates for investment and management decisions. In 1998, the Air Lanka re-branded to SriLankan Airlines.

SriLankan acquired 6 Airbus A330-200s to complement its fleet of Airbus A340-300 and A320-200 aircraft. The A330-200 aircraft 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 upgraded its existing A340 fleet into a two-class configuration (business and economy class) whilst overhauling the interior to reflect the new corporate image.

The airline gradually increased its number of destinations with more additions for regional markets, notably India and the Middle East. Whilst continuing expansion in the region, SriLankan commenced flying to Jeddah, its third destination in Saudi Arabia, after Riyadh and Dammam, thus increasing the number of destinations in the Middle East to nine. Jeddah became the airline’s 51st destination overall.

In 2008, Emirates notified the Sri Lankan Government that it would not renew its management contract, which then expired on 31 March 2008. It claimed that the Sri Lankan Government was seeking greater control over the day-to-day management of the airline.Emirates sold its 43.63% stake in the airline to the Government of Sri Lanka in a deal that was finalized in 2010, thus ending any affiliations the two airlines had with each other.

The flight attendant uniform remained unchanged from the days of Air Lanka until February 2010, when a new uniform was introduced based on its previous uniform design. SriLankan (and Air Lanka) mainly uses country’s national dress, “Osariya” as the uniform for its female staffs (Stewardess & ground staff) whilst males were given the usual western black suit, during airlanka’s days it was red in color. The designs are based on the patterns of Peacock which also used for its livery. In recognition of its high standard of service, SriLankan Airlines has been a holder of the Imperial Mark.

In 2008, President Mahinda Rajapakse ended the partnership with Emirates and removed the Emirates-appointed CEO Peter Hill and appointed his brother-in-law, after Hill refused to remove fare-paying business-class passengers to economy class and give their seats to members of Rajapakse’s family, who were returning from London. When Emirates pulled out, the accumulated profit of SriLankan was Rs. 9.288 billion in that financial year. From 2008 to 2015, when the Rajapaksa administration ran it, the loss for the seven years was Rs. 128.238 billion (US$875 million).

Following the ownership transfer, SriLankan took the decision to promote Colombo as a hub for flights to Asia. The first destination of the expansion plan was Shanghai, China; the route was initiated on 1 July 2010.The airline commenced flights to Guangzhou, China on 28 January 2011.

SriLankan joined the Oneworld alliance on 1 May 2014. During 2014 it started to renew and increase its fleet, with purchases of Airbus A330 & A350 models. Currently, SriLankan operates an all-Airbus fleet with exception for its Air-taxi services. SriLankan phased out their last Airbus A340-300 on 7 January 2016 with its last scheduled flight from Chennai to Colombo.

The airline terminated three European routes – Frankfurt, Paris and Rome – by end 2016.

The airline absorbed Mihin Lanka by end 2016, as it was loss making, but the whole staff didn’t get absorbed. The airline took Mihin’s A319-132 aircraft and 2 of A321-231 aircraft. Today Sri Lankan airlines operates Mihin Lanka’s 11 routes, Jakarta, Dhaka, Lahore, Bahrain, Varanasi, Gaya, Madurai, Seychelles, Sharjah, Kolkata and Gan, Maldives.

Livery

The initial livery consisted of red stripes on a white fuselage, the tail being a solid red and sporting the corporate logo, a stylised vimana locally known as ‘dandu monara’, the flying machine of the mythical king of lanka, ravana. This was the sole livery of the airline for nearly two decades, from January 1979 to October 1998.

After SriLankan Airlines began a decade-long partnership with Emirates, the livery was changed into a much simpler one, with an all-white fuselage, covered by blue ‘SriLankan’ titles, and the tail adorned with the corporate logo.

In May 2014, an Airbus A330 in special Oneworld livery was delivered to commemorate the airline’s establishment as a Oneworld member. Newly delivered aircraft are adorned with a blue under-belly bearing the tourism advertisement- “visit Sri Lanka” in white.

Videos – Srialnkan Airlines