The Sri Lanka Air Forces will be opening up domestic flight routes to provide a service to the people travelling to Jaffna in the North, Trincomalee in the East and to Sigiriya.
The flights are not for profit as the Air Force is not a commercial organization and all revenue will go directly to the government, Wing Commander Dayal Wijeratne said.
The Air Force is "trying to provide a service, to meet a need and be a form of revenue for the government", he explained. "We wish to offer a service to the people and also to give them a wider choice of transportation when travelling".
Helitours has been in operation since 1983 offering people with an alternative method of transport. As the conflict escalated the operation became more low key, and only occasional flights were made under serious circumstances, he noted.
But now with the end of the civil war, the Air Force is once again offering frequent flights and in addition to Helitours, they are also operating charter flights to give the people a further choice and a reliable service, Wing Commander Wijeratne said.
There will be charter flights to Jaffna from Ratmalana Air Force Base to Palaly three times a week at 8 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and a return ticket will cost Rs 19,100. Flights to Trincomalee will operate on Saturdays at 8 am from Ratmalana to China Bay at Rs 15,300 return and flights to Sigiriya will also be leaving at 8 am from Ratmalana for Rs 9,000 return.
More information can be obtained by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling their 24/7 hotline on 0602144244. Tickets themselves can be purchased from a counter at the Air Force Headquarters in Colombo between 9 am and 1 pm and a counter will be opening in Jaffna outside the high security area of the military installation this week.
In an effort to attract foreigners and Sri Lankans travelling from abroad, an office will be opened in Bandaranaike International Airport. Airfares include a bus shuttle to and from the high security zone to public transport routes. In order to travel, Sri Lankan nationals need an ID card or passport and foreigners need approval from the Ministry of Defence along with a valid passport before they can board the flight.
The planes belong to the Air Force planes and are piloted by highly competent Air Force pilots. Security is guaranteed on a military flight as the pilots are highly trained and have invaluable flying experience. The interior of the military planes have been refurbished to make them more comfortable for charter flights, Wing Commander Wijeratne said.
At the initial stage, no refreshments will be served on the flights, but it is something that might come into being in the future. The duration of the flight does not exceed one hour, a substantial time difference compared to a bus or train journey to the same areas. Depending on the plane, passenger numbers may vary from 4 to 20, he noted.
The Air Force will deploy a number of military planes for these charter flights; Bell 206 Jet Ranger which seats 4, Bell 212 and Bell 412 seating 8, the MI 17 can have 20 passengers, and the Y 12 Fixed Wing Aircraft can accommodate 15 people. A new N 32 plane will also be in operation from August. Each passenger is allowed to bring 10 kgs of luggage on board, which is stored in a separate compartment, he explained.
There are currently two private Sri Lankan airlines operating flights to the same airports, Expo Aviation and AeroLanka. However, the waiting list for both airlines is about a month, something the Air Force will be attempting to avoid. The inaugural flight will take place this Monday (27) at 8 am from Ratmalana to Jaffna, Wing Commander Wijeratne said.
The Air Force has plans to expand the number of flights as the venture takes off, with plans to include float planes which can land at any known water mark. Prices of tickets are expensive at the moment, but as the venture progresses and more flights are added, ticket prices will go down. However, at this early stage the Air Force has to recover the initial expenditure from the undertaking and the cost of maintaining the aircraft has also to be taken into consideration, he said.
This venture is set to be a success and an asset to the people of Sri Lanka as well as for tourists who want to visit these areas with more ease. The possibility to operate these flights is a "direct manifestation to come out of the peace" Wing Commander Janaka Nanayakkara said.
"This venture will be an invaluable service to the people", he assured.