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Monara Rising: The History of Civil Aviation in Sri Lanka E-mail


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Monara Rising, the history of civil aviation in Sri Lanka, published to coincide with the 25th anniversary of SriLankan, is the first book tracing the history of aviation in Sri Lanka. Utilising archival materials and anecdotal evidence from those who have been part of this extraordinary era, the title traces a story of triumph over adversity. From the early struggles of Air Ceylon to 2005, when the SriLankan group was the most profitable corporation on the island, it is a story filled with colour.

The birth of aviation in what was then known as Ceylon came in 1912, but it was the Second World War that first made Ceylon a focal point for aviation. The island was a centre for Royal Air Force operations. Its basic airstrip was to play a key role in one of the pivotal battles of the war on 5 April 1942. Churchill stated: “The most dangerous moment of the War, and the one which caused me the greatest alarm, was when the Japanese Fleet was heading for Ceylon and the naval base there. The capture of Ceylon, the consequent control of the Indian Ocean, and the possibility at the same time of a German conquest of Egypt would have closed the ring and the future would have been black.”

The birth of civil aviation on the island came in 1947 when Lionel Kotelawala, Minister of Communications and Works, pushed an agreement through Cabinet to form a national carrier. For more than thirty years, Air Ceylon would serve the country, supported by a series of grandfather agreements with majors such as Australian National Airways, KLM and BOAC.

The Air Ceylon era ended in the late 1970s, when the Government forged a new carrier in the shape of Air Lanka. On 1 September 1979, Air Lanka’s maiden service flew to Bangkok.

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the Lockheed Tristar was the backbone of the Air Lanka fleet. But under-capitalisation, a worsening domestic economy and difficult political situation led to the carrier being unable to sustain itself. Air Lanka struggled to stay in the air.

By the mid-1990s, the Government of President Chandrika Kumaratunge sought to revive the fortunes of Sri Lanka’s national carrier. In April 1998, Dubai-based Emirates, one of the world’s most profitable airlines, purchased a stake in Air Lanka and took on a ten-year management contract. Since then, despite a number of major challenges, the rebranded SriLankan has enjoyed a dramatic revival in fortunes.

Named as Skytrax Airline of the Year 2000 and 2001 for Central Asia, SriLankan has one of the most modern Airbus fleets in the world, and is widely recognized as being served by one of the best cabin crews in the industry.

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