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News  


 

SriLankan wooed by Boeing

By Rohan Abeywardena

With business booming for SriLankan from increased tourist and other arrivals to the country, aircraft manufacturers aggressively peddling their merchandise in Colombo and the frontrunner according to aviation insiders this time is America’s Boeing.
Sources said the rival Airbus of Europe, which already has a firm foothold here since President Premadasa purchased five new aircraft from it just prior to his assassination in 1993 too is in the running. Since that initial purchase of two short range A-320s and three long-rage A-340s Airbus aircraft have been the workhorse of SriLankan.
The Nation learns that a Boeing sales team from Seattle had made a convincing sales pitch for its proven workhorse 777 as the ideal aircraft for the national carrier last month. Strangely Boeing new 787 ‘Dreamliner,’ which is considered the most economical aircraft, had not been included in the sales pitch due to massive delivery delays and backlog of orders.
The things standing against Boeing is said to be the problem of having to retrain our pilots to fly its aircraft as all our flyers at present have been trained only on airbus aircraft and the necessity to retool and retrain our aircraft maintenance to handle Boeing aircraft, which would be a double burden as it also has to look after airbus aircraft at the same time.
But SriLankan pilots we spoke to were on the whole receptive to acquiring the 777 on the basis it is much faster and economical, especially on long haul flights in comparison to Airbus planes.
They said from past experience they had lost faith in Airbus as they never keep to their word on many things, including their engine performance.
“We can do a return flight to London in a 24-hour cycle with the 777 with a complement of 350 passengers, which the airbus aircraft cannot match.”
President Rajapaksa has already announced that the national carrier’s fleet should be increased to more than 30 aircraft to meet the growing demand.

At present the carrier is grappling with the problem of not only the shortage of aircraft as it is managing with about a dozen planes it has to cover the growing route network, but is also saddled with a massive pilot shortage, which resulted in cancellation of a flight from London even this week.
The national carrier now flies with a pilot strength of about 160, but it should be having about 240 pilots, sources said.
Sources, however, said the national carrier was unlikely to go for outright purchase of so many new aircraft despite growing business due to its accumulated massive debt running to billions of rupees. Instead, it might come to an agreement with a foreign company to purchase the new aircraft and SriLankan will lease them from that firm.
Even if the 777 aircraft is ordered by the national carrier, the delivery will not take place for at least another three years due to backlog of orders for the plane.
But, in order to meet the growing passenger demand, the national carrier plans to add seven more flights to England alone by the end of the year on top of 14 that it now flies to Heathrow in London every week. The seven new flights are to Manchester and Gatwick, SriLankan sources said.
The carrier has also earmarked new flights to Seoul and St Petersburg among others.
Boeing team however has offered a solution to delays in delivery of new aircraft by offering to obtain second hand planes for the national carrier in the interim.