Govt to use aviation centenary to leapfrog country to regional aviation hub

Civil Aviation Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravindra Ruberu explaining the aviation targets for Sri Lanka while chairing the news conference at the government information department  on Monday. He is flanked by Shipping and Aviation Research ( Pvt) Ltd Chairman Nihal Hewage, Sri Lanka Air Force Director (Operations) Air Vice Marshal Gagan  Bulathsinhala, SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Air Director/ CEO  Kapila Chadrasena, Airport and Aviation Services ( Sri Lanka) Ltd. Chairman Colonel Prasanna Wickremasuriya, Civil Aviation Authority Chairman and former Army Commander  Lt. General Rohan Daluwatte,  Director General H. M. C. Nimalsiri,

* Celebrations round the year and four stamps — Civil Aviation Secy.

* Mattala airport to be opened early 2013 - AASL Chairman

* Route expansions in Asian destinations —SriLankan Director/ CEO

By Ravi Ladduwahetty

Sri Lanka will be celebrating its aviation centenary on January 7 and the government would use the event and the opportunity to leapfrog the nation to the regional aviation hub for South Asia.

Aviation Ministry Secretary Dr. Ravindra Ruberu, speaking at a news conference on Monday themed: ‘A centenary of Aviation: Conquering the Blue Sky’, said that Sri Lanka’s aviation centenary which falls on December 7, comes at the most opportune moment and at a time when the nation was vying to be a regional and global aviation hub.

"We have created some of the infrastructure for the proposed target which is the opening of the Mattala International Airport, which will be in early 2013. It will be exactly 50 years after the launching of the Bandaranaike International Airport in 1963. Also in line with this is the training of pilots and aviation personnel," he said.

Ruberu said this was also a good time to reflect on the developments of the local aviation industry in the last 100 years and the functions of the State institutions coming under the aegis of the aviation sector.

He said the celebrations would begin on December 7 at Temple Trees, with President Mahinda Rajapaksa launching four stamps of the Rs. 5, 10, 15, and Rs. 20 denominations, along with their four first day covers, in the presence of Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne and Deputy Minister Geethanjana Gunawardena. There will also be an art competition and a commemorative edition to mark the event.

Other stakeholders of the aviation industry, who were in attendance, were: Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd. Chairman. Colonel Prasanna Wickremasuriya, Civil Aviation Authority Chairman and former Army Commander Lt. General Rohan Daluwatte, Director General H. M. C. Nimalsiri, SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Air Director/CEO Kapila Chandrasena, Sri Lanka Air Force Director (Operations) Air Vice Marshal Gagan Bulathsinhala and Shipping and Aviation Research (Pvt) Ltd Chairman Nihal Hewage.

Responding to a question from The Island on whether there would not be an exhibition to mark such a landmark event, Dr. Ruberu said that the exhibition would he held in four months time as the celebrations would continue for a full year.

Lt. Gen. Daluwatte said that Sri Lanka had emerged first in aviation safety and security standards in South Asia, fourth in Asia and 17th in the entire world.

Colonel Wickremasuriya said that the Bandaranaike International Airport had reached saturation point which meant that the arrivals and the departures to and from the airport would amount to 7 million passengers for 2012, when its annual passenger handing capacity was 6 million.

"It is our target to increase the handling capacity of the BIA to 18 million passengers by 2017," he said, adding that 1.5 million pasengers were transit passengers in response to a q1uery from this newspaper.

He said negotiations were on with some airlines in the Gulf region, such as Emirates, Qatar Airways and Air Arabia, which have promised to fly into the Mattala airport.

He added that arrangements were being made to tie up with a reputed international airline, which would not only assist Sri Lanka in the establishment of a repair hub, but also a maintenance hub. "Right now, of all the pilots’ training courses, we have only 30 per cent of the training here while the remainder are held overseas, but we will be soon giving them 100 per cent training in Sri Lanka, not only for Lankans, but for expatriates too.

He said that there were more airlines flying into Colombo, but there were also more international airlines flying over Colombo, which meant that the annual revenue to AASL was increasing phenomenally. Efforts would also be made to develop the domestic airports such as Koggala, Puttalam, Jaffna and Ratmalana.

Kapila Chandrasena said that the biggest challenge for the national carrier was the escalating prices of aviation fuel.

He also said that the airline would be adopting a strategy to expand on the Asian routes to circumvent the losses from the European routes, arising from the recession in the European Union. We will also increase frequencies to India and China.

Responding to a question from The Island as to whether there were moves to re-launch SriLankan flights to Sydney and Melbourne, he said that it was a seasonal flight where the markets were in November, December and January.

He said that SriLankan would join an exclusive league called ‘One World Alliance’, which has as members – British Airways, Qantas, American Airlines and Malaysian Airline etc. which would enable SriLankan to restart flights to Australia on a code sharing basis.

He said that the projected losses of the national carriers for 2012 would be US$ 130 million for SriLankan while the projected loss for Mihin would be in the region of US$ 1.5 million.

Air Vice Marshal Bulathsinhala explained the role played by the SLAF in the completion of the terrorist war and how it was assisting the country in the procurement of foreign exchange through its helicopter operations for tourists – Helitours. He said that the future role of the SLAF would be to provide more facilities in the domestic aviation sector.

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