International flights from KKS: Some random thoughts


So, now they are restarting International, regional flights from KKS. I remember how Air Ceylon used to fly Ratmalana (RMA)/ KKS (Jaffna)/ Trichinopoly (Trichy) /BIA/ Trichinopoly/ KKS/ China Bay/ Ratmalana, all in one day, with a single crew. Interestingly, wearing ties and white shirts ‘buttoned at the cuff’ (long sleeves), in the sweltering heat! Some flights returning to KKS from Trichy and going back direct to RMA. Others doing Batticaloa/ Ampara and back. To go east from the west coast, the unpressurised DC3, the pilots climbed at 300 feet a minute, to give the passengers a comfortable ride (to prevent ears popping) and as a result, were unable to clear the central hills. So they used to go further north and climb through the ‘Mathale Gap’ in the hills and then set course to Batticaloa or Ampara.

The Authorities are hoping to have Indian operations from New Delhi, Mumbai, Cochin and Chennai into KKS. Whether they could be considered ‘regional flights’, is another question. The distance between the city pairs are as follows. KKS/ New Delhi 1135 Nautical Miles (NM), KKS/ Mumbai 806 NM, KKS/ Cochin 216 NM and KKS/ Chennai 191 NM. So, if geographical distances are the criteria, then KKS/ Male (Maldives) which is only 514 NM is a regional flight!

It is hoped that the Ratmalana Airport will also be used for those same ‘regional’ destinations as from KKS. There is a great concentration of Maldivians in Colombo South. Without going all the way to BIA, if they could board a flight to Male from Ratmalana after clearing Customs. Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ). They will be half way to Male, by the time a regular airline passenger to Male travels by road to BIA, after negotiating traffic along Galle Road and Baseline Road, travels the expressway, clears CIQ, gets to the holding area and then is ready for boarding. That, I believe is the advantage of the ‘City Airport’ like RMA.

To feed in tourist traffic and local passengers from all over the island, will there be domestic flight to KKS from airports like BIA, RMA, Batticaloa, initially, and later from other domestic airports? These flights could originate early morning from these airports and ‘dove tail’ to KKS providing the commuters cheaper travel options. There can also be flights from Batticalao to RMA and BIA and KKS. The RMA flight could operate via BIA, with a quick 10 minute turn around there. The domestic flights will get back to where they originated from. Passengers flying beyond KKS on these ‘regional flights’ could clear CIQ at KKS, like in the good old days. All foreign airports mentioned, including Male, are International airports with international connections. A second domestic service should be originated in the evening, to ensure connectivity for passengers and tourists returning from KKS. After the aircraft return, they will stay overnight in those designated bases where continuous maintenance can be carried out. A Batticaloa and KKS passenger should be able to get to Colombo, the ‘Economic/ Administrative Centre’ by 0800 hrs, to do a full day’s work and get back home by the end of the day. In the Air Ceylon days we had top doctors, lawyers, Engineers, Film Stars and politicians (you name it) commuting to KKS and Batticaloa and getting back in the afternoon. Once KKS opens up with easier and cheaper access to Europe and the Middle East, will Colombo lose its status as the main ‘Economic Centre’? We will have to wait and see.

How these new flight Operations will affect the National Carrier is yet to be seen, as they too operate to some of the Indian destinations and Male. It will be a choice between a short ride on a jet plane, after a long road trip to BIA and a flight in a smaller slower aircraft, from a convenient local airport (there are fifteen of them) in the Island to BIA or KKS and going international from there. Will Mattala international too come on line? How will the ground transport providing Tour Operators be affected? In New Zealand the domestic flights are full even with a good road network. It will be a personal preference of the tourist and the commuter. Perhaps the proof of the pudding is its eating. It is certainly a step in the right direction. Thank you Mr Minister.

Flying is a very expensive business for both the commuter and the operator. Will the Minister consider capping the domestic ticket prices and subsidising the fixed costs of domestic operations such as exorbitant airport hangar charges, which comes directly under his purview through the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka? Could the Government through the CPC, consider reduced duty on Aviation Fuel to help keep the operational cost down for a set period of time (say ten years) like what India does? The objective is to popularise domestic flying by making it more affordable. The tourists could be charged an unsubsidised rate. Should this be the next logical step?

Lack of passion, initiative and drive of those involved, have been the bane of Civil Aviation in Sri Lanka. There are over two hundred qualified Commercial Pilots who are unemployed. These young girls and boys keen, highly motivated and have proved that they have the knowledge and experience, by qualifying as pilots, but the Civil Aviation System prefers graduates who have not even stepped into an aircraft to run the show.

Sad isn’t it?


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