SriLankan Airlines has been the fabric of commercial aviation in Sri Lanka since the dawn of the airline 43 years ago. Launched on September 1, 1979, SriLankan Airlines’ 43rd Anniversary is perhaps an opportune moment therefore to reflect back on the airline’s greatest accomplishments, which are often intertwined with Sri Lanka’s own milestones in aviation and tourism.
SriLankan’s contribution to the economy of Sri Lanka as the country’s flag carrier cannot be understated. The airline has been the ultimate gateway between Sri Lanka and the world. With a current all-Airbus fleet of 24 aircraft, SriLankan has been connecting Sri Lankans to 119 cities in 60 countries across continents through direct and codeshare operations. Moreover, SriLankan Airlines is the only airline to operate direct flights between Colombo and several global power cities including London; Paris; Frankfurt; Melbourne; Sydney; and Tokyo, enabling socio-economic ties with these markets.
SriLankan has also played a central role in introducing Sri Lanka and the country’s spectacular heritage to discerning international travellers. SriLankan has for nearly half a century helped bridge distances; position Sri Lanka as one of the most desired holiday destinations; and link millions of passengers to Colombo, Southern India and the Maldives with expedient connections. Over 95 per cent 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.
The proof is in the numbers. Between 1979 and now, SriLankan has served over 89 million passenger journeys for both local and foreign passengers – a number that is equal to the population of Sri Lanka, four times over. The airline is, unquestionably, 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. Consequently, it has been estimated that SriLankan Airlines makes a significant contribution to Sri Lanka’s gross domestic product.
Aside from passenger services, strategic business units of the airline such as SriLankan Cargo and SriLankan Engineering have all progressively contributed to the organization 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 one million metric tons across borders solely in the past ten 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. SriLankan Airlines, however, has persisted over the years; adapting when the situation necessitated it and extending steady support to the nation when needed. This has never been more evident than during times of national crisis.
Reflecting on the significance of the airline to the country, Ashok Pathirage, Chairman of SriLankan Airlines stated, “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.”
Additionally, SriLankan Airlines has brought pride to the country with each international award brought home. While the awards won by SriLankan since 1979 are too numerous to list, the airline has won close to 50 prestigious international awards in the last decade alone. The most recently secured awards include Diamond status by the APEX Health and Safety Audit powered by SimpliFlying 2021; World’s Leading Airline to the Indian Ocean by World Travel Awards 2021; APEX Passenger Choice Awards- Best WIFI in Central Asia 2022; and APEX Passenger Choice Awards- Best Cabin Service in Central Asia 2022.