24th July 2011, www.sundayobserver.lk, By Lalin Fernandopulle
Do you want a bird's eye view of Sri Lanka's plush green land and the scenic beauty of beaches? A cruise on SriLankan Airlines air taxi will provide that unique experience. A journey on a bright sunny day provides a clear view of the panoramic diversity of the country.
A traveller could reach his destination without any hassle within half an hour on a air taxi that flies to 12 key locations from Colombo. The flight takes off from the Kelaniya River from a location adjacent to a historic temple in Peliyagoda.
Manager Product Development, Commercial Division, Airline Centre, SriLankan Airlines, Sanjeeva Jayatileke said that locations and landing spots have been identified to operate domestic flights.
"We hope to retain the location at Peliyagoda while considering the Beira Lake as an alternative spot for landing and take off", he said.
The air taxi flies to Bentota three days a week. Plans are afoot to increase the number of flights to the South.
The 17-seater air taxi operates flights to Kandy, Nuwara Eliya, Bentota, Koggala,Dickwella, Tissamaharama, Hambantota, Arugam Bay, Passikuda, Trincomalee and Jaffna.
He said they hope to resume flights to Nuwara Eliya which have been suspended due to bad weather.
There is a big demand for flights to Nuwara Eliya which is the most preferred location among tourists. We have identified two locations in Kandy and hope to operate flights on a daily basis.
Jayatileke said that there are more tourists today in hotels due to the air taxi which flies to 12 key locations on a daily basis.
"We hope to issue tickets at the dockside for the convenience of travellers and facilitate a speedy service", he said.
"Dambulla is the latest addition to the locations of the domestic flight operation. Plans are afoot to launch charter flights to Passikuda, Arugam Bay and Jaffna this year", a SriLankan Airlines official said.
He said plans are under way to launch charter flights to Tissamaharamaya and Ampara. "We are looking at launching a flight to Castlereigh soon."
The speciality of the air taxi operations is that a traveller could reach his or her destination within an hour.
The tourism industry has been anxiously anticipating the resumption of domestic air flights which provides a turbo boost to the travel industry.
The sea plane operation will help promote the destination and support the endeavour of the tourism industry to reach the target of attracting 2.5 million visitors by 2015.
The sea plane operation in Sri Lanka resumed late last year following a temporary suspension in 2008 for security reasons.
"There is a tremendous demand for domestic air flights which ward off the hassle of a long cumbersome journey by road.
We hope to raise the standard of service to international level which would woo more travellers to the country", Jayatileke said.
SriLankan Airlines hopes to develop a sea plane airstrip at Ja-ela shortly to facilitate a quick transit to any key location in the country.
"We hope to introduce more aircraft, increase the number of flights, pilots and stewards to offer a unique service.
The airline has commenced training airforce pilots who will be absorbed to the operations soon", Jayatileke said.
SriLankan Airlines currently operates two aircraft from Kennborek Calgery, Canada on a two-year wet lease agreement which will expire in December 2012.
The original plan, to commence operations from the Negombo lagoon came to a halt due to opposition from the fisherfolk in the area. The project was opposed due to adverse environmental impact envisaged by operating, sea planes, on marine life.
"We have obtained clearance from the Central Environmental Authority to operate flights at 12 locations which we hope to increase it to 20 this year. Steps have been taken to ensure that there is no adverse impact on the environment", an official said.
Sea plane operations have given a new dimension to tourism in Sri Lanka which has revived rapidly since the dawn of peace.
It will entice more tourists to the country which has a host of attractions to offer the traveller.
The air taxi service is still not a profit making venture though there is much hype about domestic flights.
"We hope to turn the operations into a profitable venture by introducing more services to attract tourists", a SriLankan Airlines official said.
Flight Operations Administration and Technical, Project Manager, Safety and Quality Auditor, SriLankan Airlines, Pulasthi Jayasinha said that the air taxi service has a value to transportation and added that float planes will be a boost to develop the tourism industry.
The water level in reservoirs is a vital factor to operate sea planes which require a 4000 feet runway and four feet depth to berth.
Jayasinha said that the dawn to dusk operation of the air taxi service will be manned by professional local crew who will offer an unmatched service to passengers.
The air taxi flights are manned by a Canadian crew. "It is exciting to be in Sri Lanka and we enjoy every bit of the stay in the country. We will offer our best service to promote tourism in Sri Lanka," a crew member said.
The sea plane is a popular mode of transportation in many tourist destinations.
Image: The SriLankan Airlines De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft Pix: Sulochana Gamage
Related Info :
• SriLankan Air Taxi Launches Operations to Nuwara Eliya with a Group of Distinguished Passengers
• Sri Lanka's Mattala International Airport to be Ready in 2012. Hambantota Airport will be an Alternative to BIA, Colombo
• Sri Lanka to Open Skies with Permission to Operate Float Planes, Helicopters & Hot Air Balloons