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