By Cheranka Mendis
Despite a slow takeoff, SriLankan Air Taxi service is now running a successful operation, connecting 17 local destinations to its network with expansion plans of four more destinations and purchase of a new plane in 2012.
The airline, which only had five operating locations in July this year, has added 12 locations within a five-month period, with Trincomalee being the latest addition. In two weeks the Air Taxi will also extend its operation to Batticaloa.
SriLankan Airlines Product Development and Air Taxi Manager Sanjeeva Jayatileke stated that more locations would be added in 2012 and that immediate plans include areas of Pasikudah, Jaffna and Anuradhapura.
With the most popular destinations being Koggala and Dikwella, the airline has introduced a special Bentota-Koggala-Dikwella route to showcase the best of the southern coastal belt, he said. The route is operational twice a week.
With a few days more to complete a year since the reintroduction of the service in 2010, the airline has seen an upward trend in demand and revenue.
He asserted that the air taxi concept, even though it took some time to get popular, was now in demand a rising number of people following the rule of ‘time is money’. Although the greater demand is from foreigners, local businessmen are increasingly beginning to use the service, Jayatileke said, adding, “We are picking up a lot of charters.”
“We are still being seen as a high end product and seem to attract high-end consumers for the most part. With the tourism industry now trying to position itself as a high-end destination, the airline is bound to do better in the coming year.”
Currently operations are carried out in two De Havilland Twin Otter aircraft the company acquired from Kenn Borek Air Limited Canada on a two-year wet lease. With the demand for the service now rising, the airline will purchase another Twin Otter aircraft by end next year, failing which the aircraft will be acquired beginning 2013, Jayatileke said. The lease for the current aircrafts will end in December 2012.
The company is also looking at localising the entire operation by April next year by employing Sri Lankan pilots and engineers. As at now a Canadian crew operates the aircrafts according to the lease agreement.
Prices of the air routes have been increased from the initial concessionary price of Rs. 4,900. For a scenic flight the charge stands at Rs. 5,500 and for other flights the charge is Rs. 6,000 and above.
“We have increased the prices gradually as we do not want to lose the local market. However, prices must be increased to run a profitable business,” Jayatileke noted.