At a signing ceremony today at the newly opened Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka (named after President Mahinda Rajapaksa and located in his hometown of Hambantota), Sri Lankan Airlines officially became a member of Oneworld. From tomorrow (May 1) onwards, all of its passengers will enjoy more benefits from other airlines in the alliance.
Nishantha Wickramasinghe, chairman of the airline, said he hoped to make Sri Lankan a “vibrant Asian hub, vibrant Asian destination” while becoming a new hub for Oneworld. The carrier is responsible for 40 per cent of the visitors to the island country.
Bruce Ashley, Oneworld chief executive, asserted that, with its first Indian subcontinent having joined, Oneworld members have covered all the major business cities in the world and there are no gaps that need to be filled, although the alliance continues to talk to airlines, including those in India. China, he said, has been well covered by Cathay Pacific and its sister airline Dragonair.
Rupert Hogg, chief operating officer of Cathay Pacific, pointed out that Sri Lanka Airlines’ admission has a “special significance” as it represents Oneworld’s “biggest expansion since the alliance was established 15 years go”, following new members such as Qatar Airways (see story), Lan, Tam and US Airways (see story). “In fact, we believe it is the biggest and fast expansion of any alliance to date.” He also highlighted that with the merger of American Airlines and US Airways having created the largest airline in the US (and the largest in the world by passenger number), it also makes Oneworld the leading alliance in the the country.
Although still a relatively small operator, Sri Lankan Airlines has almost doubled in size since the end of civil war in its home country four years ago, and there are aggressive expansion plans in place. It operates a 21-strong fleet that includes eight Airbus A320s/321s, seven A330-200s and six A340-300s. The airline has on order 10 new aircraft, with four of them being A350-900s, the first of which is to be delivered later this year.