Air Lanka was set up by the Government of Sri Lanka in July 1979 following the closure of Air Ceylon in 1978. Initially, the new air carrier operated two Boeing 707 jets on lease from Singapore Airlines. During the 1980s, the airline increased the number of destinations served and made additions to its fleet. By 1990, Air Lanka served 26 destinations. In December 1992, the airline purchased its first Airbus A320.
AirLanka Boeing 747-200 at Basle Airport (1984)Air Lanka, which was state owned, was part-privatized to the Dubai based Emirates Group in 1998 when Emirates and the Sri Lankan Government signed an agreement for a ten-year strategic partnership. This agreement included exclusive rights for all aircraft ground handling and airline catering at Colombo-Bandaranaike airport for a ten-year period. Emirates bought a 40% stake worth US$70 million (which it later increased to 43.6%) in Air Lanka, and sought to refurbish the airline's image and fleet. The Government retained a majority stake in the airline but gave full control to Emirates for investment and management decisions. In 1998, the Air Lanka brand was abandoned and SriLankan Airlines was born. In the early 1990s the airline had its headquarters in Colombo.
SriLankan acquired six Airbus A330-200s to complement its fleet of Airbus A340-300 and A320-200 aircraft. The A330-200 units joined the airline between October 1999 and July 2000. The company’s fourth A340-300 arrived at Colombo painted in the airline’s new corporate livery. SriLankan also upgraded its existing A340 fleet into a two-class configuration (business and economy class) whilst overhauling the interior to reflect the new corporate image.
SriLankan Airlines has been affected by both environmental problems and acts of terrorism. This has included the SARS outbreak, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Civil War within Sri Lanka and a terrorist attack on Colombo-Bandaranaike airport, which destroyed four aircraft and damaged two, writing off half of the airline's fleet. SriLankan subsequently took the decision to position Colombo as a hub for flights to Asia. An example of this is its expansion into regional markets, notably in India and the Middle East.
Whilst continuing expansion in the region, SriLankan also serves Jeddah, its third destination in Saudi Arabia, after Riyadh and Dammam. Jeddah was the airline's 51st destination in 28 countries, thus increasing to nine the number of its destinations in the Middle East.
As part of its strategy it has also developed nonstop flights from Malé (the Maldives) to London, Paris and Tokyo.
On 19 December 2007, then SriLankan Airlines CEO Peter Hill had his work permit cancelled by the Sri Lankan Government for refusing to remove 35 passengers in a fully booked flight to give space for the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa and his entourage.
In 2008 Emirates notified the Sri Lankan Government that it will not renew the management contract, which then expired on March 31, 2008. It claimed that the Sri Lankan Government was seeking greater control over the day-to-day business of the airline, "which was not acceptable to us".
The flight attendant's uniform remained unchanged since the days of Air Lanka until February 2010, when a new uniform was unveiled and introduced into service. As well as the new uniform, a product upgrade (along with refurbishment and refleeting of the current fleet) will take place in order for SriLankan to attain a 5 star rating in the future. The first destination announced amidst their expansion plans is Shanghai, China which begins on the 1st of July 2010. The airline aims to start flying to Moscow, Russia by February 2011. A fourth destination in China is also being planned.
Emirates sold its 43.63% stake in the airline to the Government of Sri Lanka in a deal that was finalized in 2010, thus ending any affiliations the two airlines had with each other. SriLankan is currently not a part of any airline alliance.
SriLankan Airlines is a holder of the Imperial Mark, which is valid until May 2015.
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