President keen on re-fleeting Mihin with US-made Boeing


By Harischandra Gunaratna

The government has decided to do away with Airbus and re-fleet its budget carrier Mihin Lanka with Boeing in the near future.

Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne said that President Mahinda Rajapaksa has expressed his keenness on purchasing the US manufactured Boeing in preference to the existing Airbus for Mihin Lanka.

The Mihin fleet consists of three A-320 aircraft taken on lease at the moment.

In an interview with The Island Financial Review Jayaratne said, "The three airbus in the Mihin fleet will be shifted to Sri Lankan Airlines after the Boeing aircraft is delivered and soon Cabinet approval will be sought before calling of tenders".

Aviation sources said the government was likely to go for Boeing’s proven mid-range workhorse 777.

A few years ago Boeing even put on a full sales pitch in Sri Lanka with a well organised show at the Colombo Hilton.

"It is imperative that Sri Lankan Airlines undergoes modernisation as soon as possible and possess a fleet of brand new aircraft as 51% of the losses incurred by the national carrier were on fuel as the existing fleet possess a number of obsolete aircraft guzzling fuel," the minister said.

Asked for the reasons of this sudden change of heart, the minister jokingly said that the government doesn’t want to fallout with America.

Asked when would the first aircraft be ordered, the minister said first Cabinet approval would be sought for the purchase of six wide-bodied A-330s for the National Carrier and added that immediately after delivery of the Airbus for the national carrier, re-fleeting of Mihin Lanka would commence.

The delivery of the brand new Airbus were expected to begin by the end of the year on lease purchase, Jayaratne said.

When asked about the cost of the aircraft he said "We cannot arrive at a figure as tenders have not been called yet."

The budget carrier will be revamped to serve more efficiently, Jayaratne said.

"Many thousands of Sri Lankans who could only dream of visiting the key Buddist sites in India have already visited them and the loans on easy payment terms organised by different banks were a boon to millions of pilgrims with the advent of Mihin Lanka," he pointed out.

The Minister said that certain travel agents organising pilgrimages to India fleece the ignorant public through devious means and the government would be keeping a close tab on such agents, the minister said.

Last year, an Auditor General’s report highlighted the extent of Mihin’s financial plight.

The budget airline sustained a loss of Rs. 3.1 billion in 2007/8; Rs. 1.3 billion in 2008/9; Rs. 1.2 billion in 2009/10; Rs. 940 million in 2010/11 and Rs. 1.9 billion in 2011/12.

Grants from the Treasury amounted to Rs. 507 million in 2012; Rs. 406 million in 2011; Rs. 1,508 million in 2010; Rs. 2,882 million in 2009; Rs. 500 million in 2008 and Rs. 250 million in 2007.

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