SriLankan Airlines – A Brief Introduction

SriLankan Airlines, the country’s national carrier, has been around since 1979. The South Asian airline has had to overcome multiple incidents that occurred in the country – from terrorist attacks to the Easter bombings. At the same time, SriLankan has accumulated several accolades for its performance. But what else is there to the airline, and how did it come about? Let’s find out more.

SriLankan airlines Getty Images
The South Asian airline has an all-Airbus fleet. Photo: Getty Images

The airline is Sri Lanka’s most extensive and operates from its hub at Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.

It became a member of the oneworld alliance in 2014, joining the likes of Qantas, American Airlines, and Cathay Pacific. SeatMaestro reported that SriLankan made history with this membership, by becoming the first carrier from the Indian region to be affiliated to a global airline alliance.

In 2019, it took home the prize for South Asia’s Leading Airline for the third time. The South Asian Travel Awards (SATA) awarded the airline the title.

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Emirates used to own a portion of the airline

When SriLankan came to fruition in the 70s, it was called Air Lanka. The airline took over Air Ceylon, the country’s former flag carrier.

About 20 years later, the state-owned carrier became partially privatized. Dubai-based Emirates owned a significant 40% stake in the business, and later on, this amount rose to 43.6%. At this point, the Sri Lankan government still primarily owned Air Lanka.

Emirates A380
Emirates owned 40% of SriLankan Airlines for 10 years. Photo: Getty Images

Emirates took charge of the airline’s investments and management matters and wanted to rebrand the Sri Lankan airline. That same year, the name of the airline changed to SriLankan Airlines.

After the 10-year strategic partnership ended in 2008, Emirates chose not to renew the contract. Instead, the shares were sold back to the government, leaving SriLankan entirely state-owned. The switch hurt the airline financially, reporting year-on-year losses for the next few years. Cumulatively, the airline was in debt of $872m as of 2016, said The Daily Star.

In February, Economy Next reported that SriLankan Airlines is expected to lose $130m for the year ended March 2020.

Where does it fly now?

The carrier boasts a well-developed route network, reaching 113 destinations in 51 countries to date. These are inclusive of codeshares with multiple airlines such as Air Canada, Gulf Air, and Malaysia Airlines. Its codeshare flights mainly make up European destinations in Turkey, Italy, and Germany, among others.

For direct trips, SriLankan flies domestically as well as to several cities in India, Japan, China and multiple cities in the Southeast Asian region.

Welcome onboard once again

The friendliest airline in the skies is back to take you to wonders around the world. As always, your health and safety is our number one priority. Learn more about our safety measures designed to keep you safe throughout your journey #FlySriLankan #YouAreOurWorld

Posted by SriLankan Airlines on Monday, 10 August 2020

Currently, the airline has resumed select flights starting in mid-August. It will be flying to Frankfurt, London, Male, Zurich, Sydney, Paris, Narita, Milan and Melbourne. However, travelers must obtain specific approval from the Sri Lankan government where inbound travel is concerned. View the full flight schedule here.

100% Airbus fleet

According to, a modest 26 Airbus aircraft make up the carrier’s fleet. The South Asian airline has seven Airbus A320s, six Airbus A321s, and 13 Airbus A330s. The A330s are set aside for long-haul trips of more than seven hours.

Due to the coronavirus situation, 15 of the aircraft are not in service.

However, back when SriLankan went by Air Lanka, its initial fleet consisted of two Boeing 707s, one Boeing 737 and a Lockheed L1011-1 Tristar. These were all leased from other airlines. In 1982, SriLankan obtained its first fully-owned plane – an L1011 Tristar. 

A five-year turnaround plan

SriLankan Airlines History
The carrier’s five-year-plan has been affected by the pandemic. Photo: Shadman Samee via Wikimedia

To get back on track financially, the airline formulated a five-year plan starting in April 2019. The strategy focuses on developing a hub via its route network. Additionally, the airline aims to leverage its oneworld membership. In an official statement, the carrier said,

The Strategic Business Plan also calls for the strengthening of the route network through codeshare partnerships and alliances, especially by optimizing opportunities with oneworld member airlines.”

Simple Flying previously reported that SriLankan aims to emulate Emirates in its five-year plan.

Unfortunately, the Easter Bombings, which occurred in the same month of the plan’s formulation, affected Sri Lanka’s tourism industry significantly, in turn impacting the airline. The incident, coupled with the current pandemic, has hit the carrier substantially. The airline may be looking for a way to adjust its current plan to account for the aviation downturn.

Are there any interesting facts you know about SriLankan Airlines? Let us know in the comments.