Expo Aviation to start Jaffna flights soon

plane.jpg (14925 bytes)By Suresh Perera
A new private domestic airline is expected to begin operations between Colombo and Jaffna this month.

"We are ready for take-off", says Sabri Marikar, Chief Executive Officer, Expo Aviation (Pvt) Limited.

"The Russian pilots have arrived and everything is in place where we are concerned. We are now waiting for the green light from the civil aviation authorities to be airborne", Marikar said.

"Permission to fly will be given in another week or two after certain matters relating to the defence and civil aviation segments are sorted out", said Cecil Amarasinghe, Secretary, Ministry of Transport, Highways and Aviation.

With more than five years experience in international airline operations, Expo Aviation has brought in a Russian-built, IL-18 passenger aircraft to be used on the scheduled Colombo-Jaffna flights.

Marikar said the aircraft, with a capacity of 100 passengers per flight, will initially make two trips daily, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

"It will be a two class operation with 8 Business Class seats and the balance economy class", he explained.

Top officials of the sectors involved, including aviation and defence, particularly the air force, met last week to iron out problems relating to, inter alia, security and air and ground handling as the domestic passenger traffic will expand with the emergence of the new entrant.

"Arrangements have to be made in terms of additional security and increased passenger handling at Ratmalana and also other matters relating to aviation", Amarasinghe said.

He said that with more private licensed operators, security has to be enhanced and available facilities improved.

"We have to look at the overall set-up", the Secretary said.

Expo Aviation, a member of Expolanka Group of Companies, at present operates a leased IL-18 aircraft and a company-owned AN-12 aircraft on international cargo operations to the Far East, Middle East and regional destinations, including Male and Gan in the Maldives, Trivandrum, Calicut and Chennai in India, Dubai, Karachi, Lahore, Bangkok and Dhaka.

"We opted for an IL-18 for our Jaffna operations as we have plenty of experience with this particular aircraft, having operated a similar one for over two years on international routes," Marikar said.

"The experience gained in maintaining and operating a similar aircraft for our cargo operations will enable us to conduct a safe passenger operation," he assured.

Expo Aviation (Pvt.) Limited commenced operations as an international cargo airline over 5 years ago in 1997 under Mr. Shafik Kassim who is the Managing Director, and was re-certified under International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) guidelines in the year 2000. This was done as part of the strategy implemented by the Department of Civil Aviation in Sri Lanka to bring civil aviation in Sri Lanka to internationally accepted standards. "We are proud to be the very first airline in Sri Lanka to be certified as an Airline Operator under these international requirements introduced under the ICAO project in Sri Lanka," said Marikar. The company has been approved by the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka and is a 100% Sri Lankan owned company.

The Expolanka Group which commenced operations in 1978 today consists of more than 30 companies involved in Airline G.S.A.s, inbound and outbound travel, freight forwarding, imports and exports, general trading, commodity trading, food processing, construction, agriculture, real estate, manufacture (garment accessories, packaging material and essential oil), shipping and charter flight operations.

The Expolanka Group has its Head Office in Sri Lanka with branch offices in India, Dubai, Bangladesh, Mauritius, Madagascar, Pakistan and the Maldives.