January 2016


Goodbye old friends
January 2016




SriLankan’s A340 fleet

Having embarked upon a new phase of world travel with its fuel efficient and modern Airbus A330-300s, the national carrier is retiring its trusty workhorses the Airbus 340-300s after a two-decade-long world tour.


By Dawpadee Kawshalya Lorensuhewa


When the four-engine Airbus landed in Colombo on 1 September 1994, the Island knew that nothing would ever be the same again. Celebrating SriLankan's 15th anniversary, the massive plane - with its 60.3 metre wing span - touched down on the tarmac at Bandaranaike International Airport to a soundtrack of pirith chanting. The national carrier, known at that time as Air Lanka, has never looked back.


Air Lanka was the first airline in Asia to induct A340s into its fleet, making it the envy of other carriers in the region. In the early days the aircraft's seating configuration was similar to its predecessor, the Lockheed TriStar, with 260 seats in economy, 20 seats in business and 12 seats in first class. Lauded at the time as Airbus Industrie's best aircraft, the A340 was lighter than other planes of its size. Like all members of the Airbus family of jetliners, the A340-300 was a result of many innovations, including fly-by-wire flight controls, which brought advances in safety as well as weight and cost savings.


The combination of four engines and a stronger, lighter ceramic construction provided more room for cargo while expanding the aircraft's range. This allowed the Airline the luxury of operating non-stop up to 13,200 km with a capacity of 295 passengers.


A340s also gave Air Lanka the capacity to explore new markets, starting non-stop operations on many long-haul routes to Europe, the Middle East and the Far East, reducing travel time, stopovers and connections, and making it the preferred choice of airline for many travellers.


Historic Journey
That day in 1995, the aircraft bearing the registration 4R-ADA was on its way from Airbus headquarters in France and was due to touch down in Colombo at an auspicious time. No sooner had it entered Sri Lankan airspace however, the captain was informed that they were early. So the two pilots, Captain Chirananda ‘Chira' Fernando and First Officer Ravi Thampapillai, flew the ‘newbie' over the Central Highlands, tilting the aircraft towards Sri Pada (also known as Adam's Peak) as a mark of homage. With more lenient air traffic rules prevailing back then, they used the extra time for a magnificent flyby, giving the Island's citizens a closer look at the new face of Sri Lankan commercial aviation.


Chris Solomons, a crew member on board the historic flight, now a senior purser with the Airline, treasures the wrist watch and the poster presented to him by Airbus Industry at the induction ceremony in France.


"It was the euphoria, the sense of satisfaction and pride of being part of a historic moment which I knew was going to take our Airline to new heights," says Chris. "Having served aboard different types of aircraft, my colleagues and I knew from the first look that the experience on board this one was going to be different. From the spacious aisles and galleys that allowed us easier movements to state-of-the-art cabin architecture, we realised that with A340s we are better equipped to serve our passengers. And to its credit, the aircraft never disappointed me."


Bidding goodbye
The first A340, which was embellished with SriLankan livery, stood on the tarmac painted all white, ready to make the final journey.


The beginning of the end was in March this year, when two of that aircraft's siblings, the 4R-ADB and 4R-ADC, brought into the fleet in 1994 and 1995 respectively, were sent-off after returning from their final journeys to Chennai and Jeddah. The last SriLankan A340 was scheduled to depart in December 2015...


Services rendered

The A340s have been the backbone of the Airline's fleet since 1994, and have flown many millions of miles in that time. They have braved sandstorms and bird strikes, stood strong in the face of terrorism, carried relief aid to neighbouring countries in their hours of need, flown heads of state on diplomatic missions, and were privileged to carry their Holinesses Pope John Paul II and Pope Francis on their tours to Sri Lanka.


SriLankan's A340 fleet also played a vital role in the national carrier's contribution to Sri Lanka's tourism and economy. With its non-stop long-haul operations, SriLankan's USP largely reflected convenience and connectivity, coupled with traditional warmth and hospitality. Thus, SriLankan has been progressively facilitating travellers from Europe, the Middle East and Far Eastern destinations such as Tokyo, primarily focussing on high-end leisure travellers.


Making way for the future
Engineers at SriLankan Airlines have performed an extraordinary job in keeping the A340s in shape for over two decades. Their expertise and dedication has enabled the Airline to operate without any major technical drawbacks, despite its aging fleet.


As these veteran aircraft have been sent-off, the Airline has welcomed the more fuel-efficient and modern twin-engine A330-300s. So far, the transition has been smooth for pilots, technicians and engineers, who can all draw on their previous experience with the A340s when it comes to operating the new fleet.


New era of world travel
With the launch of its wide-body fleet renewal programme in October 2014, the national carrier is well on its way to operating a total of seven A330-300s. SriLankan operates the new aircraft on long-haul routes, offering passengers the utmost in luxury and comfort. New cabin features include mood lighting, herringbone upholstery, on-board GSM and wifi connectivity, as well as the latest inflight entertainment system, with over 100 movies available.


Milestones
The UK-based Air Finance Journal lauded SriLankan in 2014 for the deal that arranged the purchase of the new planes with lessors ILFC/AerCap and Hong Kong Aviation.


The journal called it "an innovative purchase agreement novation structure to deal with SriLankan claw-back risk, and contained an "unusual collaboration" of major operating lessors on a single account. The airline benefited from the deal because new aircraft re-fleeting allowed it to operate an increased route network profitably and further enhance Sri Lanka as a destination brand since the cessation of hostilities in the civil war".


Making memories
The relationship between man and aircraft has always been a fascinating one. It is a mixture of awe, comfort and trust. When SriLankan waves goodbye to its fleet of A340s, thousands of its employees will have mixed feelings - a blend of nostalgia and eager anticipation for the future as the dynamic A330s arrive. For the Airline, meanwhile, it's the start of a new phase in its relationship with Airbus and a moment for proudly putting its best wing forward.

 

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    Navigators of the ferry flight of the first A340. L-R: Srilal Perera – Purser, Chira Fernando – Capt, Ravi Thambipillai – First Officer and Nimal Chandrasiri – Cabin Instructor

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    The first A340 before departing on its final journey

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    National Carrier’s first A340 with Air Lanka livery

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    Tail

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    The poster given away at the Delivery Ceremony

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    A wrist watch given away at the Delivery Ceremony at Toulouse

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    An A340 with Air Lanka livery

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    SriLankan welcoming the first of its A330-300 aircraft

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    Chris Solomons, a crew member on the ferry flight

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    SriLankan engineers at work

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