Corrupt oneworld Airline SriLankan May Finally Be Privatized

Sri Lanka is one of the three largest recipients of lending from China. Their basic problem is spending more money than they have, and then limiting further what they have through regulation. The government there decided farms needed to switch to organic practices, banning chemical fertilizers and pesticides, which led to lower yields without being offset by higher prices. Food shortages followed.

The government needs to curtail its spending and devalue its currency. Part of that means reducing subsidies of inefficient businesses, that have been kept as corrupt enterprises to benefit powerful elites. So they’re considering privatizing national airline and oneworld member SriLankan Airlines.

  • The country’s President now says it shouldn’t be engaging in business – it needs to focus on basics like education and law and order.

  • The privatization of Air India makes it thinkable to do the same for their own national carrier.

  • Yet the airline’s CEO suggests the government holding onto a share of the airline.

Sri Lanka was supposed to become an Asian economic powerhouse following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers and end to the nation’s decades-long civil war 14 years ago. In my visits following the end of the civil war, it felt quite safe to visit though there were vestiges of less pleasant times – like the sticker in the window of the Colombo Hilton warning not to photograph there (lest you look like a possible sniper and get taken out).

I’ve made Sri Lanka a side trip on multiple visits to the Maldives. It’s about an hour’s flight away to the capital, and there’s no such thing as bad Sri Lankan food.

Colombo is also historically a great place to buy inexpensive premium cabin airfare. I’ve flown Emirates, SriLankan, flyDubai, China Eastern and others in and out of Bandaranaike International Airport.

SriLankan, though, is a mess and the country does need to divest itself in order to save the public purse and improve the carrier – which would help bring tourism and economic activity to the country.

Fifteen years ago the airline was partially privatized, with Emirates taking over a 40% stake and operational control. But the government took back ownership of the former Air Lanka in 2008, after Emirates decided not to continue management in the face of the government’s meddling.

  • The airline was profitable under Emirates management
  • It immediately turned to loss once re-nationalized.

The airline joined oneworld in 2014. It has a fleet of Airbus A320 family narrowbodies and Airbus A330 family widebodies.

Aircraft acquisitions is one of the primary routes for the airline’s corruption. Airbus is accused of having routed $17 million through Brunei for the benefit of SriLankan executives in order to induce them to acquire 7 Airbus A350s and 6 Airbus A330-300s. The ex-CEO fled. Of course, whichever side was in power benefited from corruption at the airline, and then when they lost power the other side investigated their corruption. The airline has been such a political plaything that the country’s leaders have even mettled in the nuts that the airline serves on board.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Recently tried to book an AA award online in business class, CMB-CDG-LHR with the first leg on SriLankan. Kept getting an error message. Called AA and was told that they couldn’t see availability. Told them to look at their own website, where they could see what I was seeing, but still unable to book that flight for the day I wanted or any other day. In addition to other equally ridiculous excuses, they claimed that SriLankan was not a OneWorld member! Have subsequently tried to book other SriLankan flights in business class without success. What’s the deal?

  2. My experience the same with with AA mileage to book on Qatar DFW to CMB . It’s AA the bug holder . Online show availability but unable to complete the booking . Frustrating!!

  3. The country will end up a complete mess – all that money from China is not free. At some stage you either pay it back or China seizes the collateral. Complaining that the previous corrupt leadership ran off with it, will not cut any ice.

    Of course maybe China will offer some form of debt forgiveness in exchange for the rights to establish a military base/port in what is a strategically well located country…..

  4. Sri Lanka has Ministry of Crab, pretty good stuff. I stayed at the Shangri-La a month before it got bombed by some terrorists.

  5. Objection: It’s not that they mandated organic farming, it’s that they couldn’t afford to import fertilizer.

  6. I booked them once Paid BKK to HKG and It was a very memorable flight. I noticed a rapid descent and it was enough to concern me (I stopped watching my movie and pulled up the airshow to see our altitude we dropped around 10k feet pretty quick ) after about 5 mins the pilot came on saying they are having issues with the control surfaces of the plane but everything is ok and we will continue on. It was a newish A330 and I paid around 330 for the ticket in Biz class.

  7. @ Loren

    They banned fertilizer. They wanted to go organic and save the planet. The ex-president, Rajapaksa, was fêted by Gutierez, as an example of a green economy. Then their economy collapsed. They used to export tea, but because of a massive decline in production due to the green dreams, they now had to import it. Insanity.

    Rutte, in Holland, is trying to follow the same route for some obscure reason. Hence the tractor protests.

  8. Agriculture is the real economic backbone of a country. If you can’t grow your own food, massive inflation is a killer. When I last visited Zimbabwe I saw that play out and made me realize how important agriculture is to a country.
    No country should have to be priced out of a loaf of bread. When they are, it’s usually the fault of a corrupt government.
    I made the mistake in Zimbabwe of buying 50 loaves of bread to hand out in an area where men and women waited for work each day. When I opened the car trunk to begin to hand out I was in fear of the rushed mob.


  10. One should look at the corrupt business practices of the South African government and South African Airlines. Not only did they go bankrupt, but the South African government continues to pour money into the sinking ship. The reason it’s sinking??? The government and airline executives steal the money back! SAA fired all but 88 pilots when they went into business rescue. Although it’s against South African law, all of the pilots fired were white. Then the government/airline refused to pay the contracted retirement “401K” pensions of those fired. Then claimed that the retrenched pilots owed the taxes on the “401K” moneys never paid out. They flew an A350 with an uncertified crew to get COVID vaccines. The aircraft suffered an “alpha floor event” which both Airbus and Rolls-Royce wanted answers…covered up! When they returned to JNB, the vaccines were spoiled! Recently, the airline had the nerve to DEMAND the fired pilots return to work under a new contract (why would anyone believe that they would honor it…they didn’t the last time!) but would be junior to the 88 pilots retained. You think Sri Lanka is bad? No one reports on South Africa and South African Airways!

  11. I like UL just fine, but they’re the only OW airline where you don’t get an elite bonus, so that makes them one to avoid in my book.

  12. Sri Lankan only upgrade Buddhist monks & politicians to business class EVEN if those monks & politicians have no frequent flyer miles. Frequents fliers are treated badly.

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