Mihin Lanka airline
under Mahinda Chinthanaya
The government is planning to launch a budget
airline in the coming months to reduce dependence on the Emirates-managed
SriLankan Airlines, according to a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA)
source—but the take off might run into a storm.
The airline is to be named Mihin Lanka - or Mihindu
Airlines, The Sunday Times learns.
“Talks are to be held with the Emirates
and the President wants us to be in a strong negotiating position
this time,” an official told The Sunday Times. The Emirates
management contract to run SriLankan Airlines ends in 2008 and its
renewal is under negotiation.
The source said that an application had not yet
been submitted to the CAA for the new airline but this would be
done when the business proposals were developed soon.
“The Treasury will fund this project entirely,”
he said. The Sunday Times understands that initial discussions have
taken place between officials of the President's Office and likely
private promoters, some of them based in Switzerland together with
some local operators in the travel trade.
An industry source said this might be a risky
move because Governments generally did not run airlines. He said
efficiency was important for an airline and the level of efficiency
in the government sector was known to be low.
“The trend in the region and all over the
world is to completely liberalise and commercialise the carriers,”
he said. He also pointed out one of the proposed names Mihin or
Mihindu, was the Sanskrit version of Mahinda, President Rajapaksa’s
Some retired SriLankan Airlines financial officials
have already been recruited to study the proposal, and are working
at an office at the World Trade Centre.
Airlines sources said that the promoters of the
new airline were suggesting that the airline 'take-off' by about
February next year. There was a suggestion that the airline be in
operation when Sri Lanka's second international airport at Weerawila
in the Hambantota District becomes operational.
SriLankan Airlines communications chief Chandana
de Silva said the idea of setting up a budget airline was an "excellent
one", but the Government would have to think of the consequences
before it went ahead with the plan.
He said the government owned 51 per cent of the
shares in SriLankan Airlines and it would need to carefully study
the consequences that a new carrier could have on SriLankan Airlines.