Come February 2021, Spark Air, the all-new private airline from Sri Lanka will take its wings to numerous continents.
Cargo operations set to begin in February 2021
Two A330s are set to fly to locations such as Los Angles carrying cargo from Mattale airport in Sri Lanka.
Thousands of jobs will now be up for grabs with the carrier’s aim in protecting the nation’s interest in aviation.
With the COVID-19 pandemic bearing down across the world, the nation’s aviation industry has taken a dive with Sri Lankan Airlines currently out of operation. The newest commercial airline, Spark Air, will initially fly two Airbus A330 aircraft beginning with cargo operations.
The aim is to expand to passenger operations once the industry picks up again.
The Environment is Now Conducive to Expand Aviation in the Country
Spark Air was conceived by four former senior captains as they felt it necessary to protect the aviation interest of the nation, the former pilots have been thinking of this initiative to operate a new airline separate from the state-owned Sri Lankan airlines for a long time. The team feels that the time is right to launch this now, says Uditha Danwatte.
Captains Robert Spittel, Ramzi Raheem, Samin Attanayake, Ashan De Alwis and Suranjan De Silva have been appointed as Directors of the organisation in its public notice for Spark’s application for an Air Operator Certificate.
Will the new airline just be carrying cargo?
A license is to be granted for the airline to engage in regular international transport operations and charter operations including carrying passengers, cargo and mail, Spark Air as the title goes will also operate an MRO facility (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul) at Mattala.
This is likely to bring additional revenues and substantial employment opportunities for skilled workers. TR understands that the recruitment is likely to commence in December this year with over 2000 potential jobs up for grabs.
Since SriLankan Airlines is an all-Airbus fleet, the airline requires skilled workers for the two A330s. By hiring already experienced workers, this will reduce training costs by a substantial amount.
Captain Danawatta says:
The new Government is looking to provide a lot of new facilities to develop aviation, including minimising landing charges, air freight charges and ground handling. These changes will be beneficial for new airlines that are coming in. We also have a very positive Director General of Aviation, who is keen to of developing aviation in the country. Initially, there will be two aircraft and then increase as per our business plan.
He also goes on to mention:
With this pandemic situation, we have to diversify operations and not just focus on passengers. There is a huge demand for cargo, and this was one of the reasons we decided to go ahead with the project. As per our plan, we have many destinations in mind, including even Los Angeles and it covers Asia, Europe, Africa and the Far East. We have also received enquiries for transit cargo.
Capt. Danwatte believes that Sri Lanka must have more than one carrier pointing to examples from other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and India which are all operate multiple airlines.
Speaking about SriLankan Airlines, Capt Danawatta also comments:
We only have SriLankan Airlines, that’s not enough to cater to everyone. In addition, SriLankan has 26 aircraft and 7,000 staff, whereas AirAsia has 110 aircraft and 2,500 staff. How can SriLankan make profits? The management has not been successful.
What happened to the airline is it was lagging with incompetent people; the right people must go for the right job. Qatar Airways flew five times a week to Colombo from Doha using 777 and 340 aircraft. They are carrying all our passengers when we could get those passengers into our airlines. Why are we giving all that money to Qatar?
A concern mentioned by him was the nearly 400 qualified pilots in the country without jobs currently. This is in addition to ground staff, flight crew and engineers who are also without an appointment. This has been the situation for the last six months.
Danawatte said this presents a sad problem as students and parents invest heavily to obtain a pilot’s license, but they then lack the opportunity to gain the necessary experience. No airline will employ them with around 180 hours of flying time, and only the national carrier available to employ them, where jobs are severely restricted.
He said this underscores the necessity and potential for new airlines in the country to boost the sector.
AirAsia wanted to have a hub here in Colombo; they had discussions with the previous government with an investment of over $ 100 million investment and 25 aircraft. It failed because they were not sure of political stability in the country due to some of the issues that took place. We tried again with the new government coming in, but the pandemic changed the situation.
Whoever is investing in a new country needs security and stability. When we analyse the past 70 years and the politicians that governed this country, we can see where we are compared to the rest of the world. We are far behind. We need better, consistent national policies and the right people in the right jobs. I think this is a good chance we have as we have visionary leadership. That is why we got together to do this and work to develop the sector. You have to open up, and this is the best time because the government is supporting it.
Captain Danwatta, who was a Captain with Mihin Lanka, claimed that the previous government cancelled the airline when it had just begun to make profits. He said this was a terrible decision alongside the decision to close down the Mattala airport. He asserts that the country needs a second international airport, drawing also to examples of international flights being diverted from Colombo to India at times of bad weather, which results in high costs to the country and the carrier.
Where will Spark Air be based?
Spark Air will have an office at the Mattala International Airport and an office in Colombo. The new airline is not looking at domestic operations at present. With the prevalent pandemic situations, parties leasing aircraft have significantly slashed prices, and Danawatta says this is the best time to invest in the sector.
Danawatta served for over 20 years in the Sri Lanka Air Force and retired as a Wing Commander with seven medals for bravery. He then joined the national carrier before joining Mihin Lanka. He also worked for Air Asia, Malaysia and a year ago made a historic flight from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo with his son as its First Officer.
It is a lively and pragmatic way of thinking and a welcome sign of boosting the business prospect for the overall Sri Lankan aviation sector.
Let us look forward to Spark Air’s maiden flight. Will it be to Los Angeles? Let us know your thoughts below.