Air Lanka, made its inaugural flight on September 1, 1979. The company was a new entity with no links to defunct Air Ceylon, and formed with managerial and technical assistance from Singapore Airlines (SIA), who also provided two Boeing 707-300Bs.
With expansion of the route network, a Boeing 737-200 was added to serve regional destinations. In 1980 Air Lanka purchased the two Boeing 707s from SIA, and also leased a Lockheed L-1011 TriStar from Air Canada. It was the first of 16 TriStars, either leased or purchased, that Air Lanka would operate over the next 20 years.
While Air Lanka concentrated only on international and regional routes, it was left to a miscellany of private airline operators to provide often-sporadic domestic service from 1980 onward, using a variety of Soviet- and Western-built airplanes and helicopters. These companies included Upali Aviation, Lionair, Ace Airtours, Sky Cabs, LankAir, Monara Air, Expo Aviation, and Serendib Express.
To serve burgeoning tourist traffic to the island, Air Lanka obtained two Boeing 747-200Bs in 1984 and 1985. But these were disposed of not long afterward; the operating economics of the ‘jumbo jets’—coupled with a dramatic decline in tourist numbers due to Sri Lanka’s deteriorating security situation—soon rendered them aeronautical white elephants.
Air Lanka made a quantum leap in December 1992 by introducing the first of two Airbus A320-200 jetliners. Incorporating the latest in computerized, fly-by-wire technology, the twin-jet A320 was followed by its larger and even more sophisticated four-engine sibling, the A340-300, in September 1994. Air Lanka had the honour of being the first Asian airline to operate the A340, an airplane that also gave the Lankan carrier the capability to operate long-haul services previously not possible.
On April 1, 1998 Air Lanka was partially privatized, when Emirates—one of the world’s leading airlines—purchased a 40% stake, with management rights for the next ten years. As part of a plan encompassing introduction of a new corporate culture into Air Lanka and enhancements to service quality throughout the airline, an order was placed for Airbus A330-200 airplanes, twin-engine ‘stablemates’ to the A340.
Perhaps the most significant milestone in the airline’s history came on July 13, 1999, when a new logo, airplane livery and, most importantly, a new name—SriLankan Airlines—was launched. The distinction of featuring the latest colour scheme went to the airline’s fourth, recently-acquired A340, whose first landing in Colombo heralded the official unveiling ceremony for SriLankan Airlines’ new corporate image. A few months later, the first of the A330s arrived to another festive welcome.
Today, SriLankan Airlines continues to strive for excellence in all aspects of its operations. Recognition has come in the form of numerous industry awards including the prestigious ‘Airline of the Year – Central Asia’ for four consecutive years and World’s Friendliest Cabin Crew as adjudged by the well known UK-based research firm Skytrax. With an all Airbus fleet of 10 wide bodied A330 / A340 aircraft and 3 A320 aircraft, SriLankan Airlines together with it’s code share partners serve 49 destinations in 31 countries in 5 continents.
SriLankan Airlines and its people are poised to take the story to even greater heights as future decades unfold.