In a move that will strengthen its position in the Indian sub-continent and to secure greater network access into southern India, the Maldives and Sri Lanka, oneworld formally welcomed SriLankan Airlines into the global airline grouping during a ceremony at the new Hambantota Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport on April 30, 2014. The airline’s first flight as an alliance member departed the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo to the Kuala Lumpur hub of oneworld partner Malaysia Airlines on the morning of May 1, 2014.
The alliance entry followed an almost two-year implementation programme which was sponsored by existing alliance member Cathay Pacific. Ahead of this process SriLankan Airlines already had a codeshare arrangement with fellow alliance member Malaysia Airlines but this week it has confirmed new arrangements with Finnair and S7 Airlines, while codeshare discussions with other oneworld partners are at an advanced stage.
"With the world airline industry increasingly focused on alliances, joining oneworld is one of the most significant developments to date for SriLankan Airlines. Joining the alliance will help put SriLankan more firmly on the global aviation map and vastly improve Sri Lanka's connectivity with the rest of the world, which is vital for our country's trade and tourism," said Nishantha Wickremasinghe, chairman, SriLankan Airlines.
SriLankan and S7 Airlines agreed to codeshare last year, pending regulatory approvals – which have now just been granted. From May 15, 2014, S7's ‘S7’ designator will be added to flights operated by SriLankan between their Colombo and Moscow Domodedovo hubs, and also Colombo and Bangkok. At the same time, SriLankan's ‘UL’ prefix will be placed on services operated by the Russian airline between its own Moscow Domodedovo base and Chelyabinsk, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, St Petersburg, Volgograd and Yekaterinburg, effectively adding six key cities in Russia to SriLankan's network.
From June 2, 2014 the Finnair codeshare will come online with the Nordic carrier adding its ‘AY’ code to flights operated by SriLankan between the latter's Colombo base and Bangkok, Frankfurt, Hong Kong, London Heathrow, Paris CDG and Rome. Meanwhile, SriLankan's ‘UL’ designator will be placed on connecting services flown by Finnair between the latter's Helsinki hub and Frankfurt, London Heathrow, Paris CDG and Rome and also between Helsinki and Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm.
SriLankan's induction into oneworld marks the completion of the alliance's biggest expansion programme since its launch 15 years ago. In just two years, the group has added more than 15 airlines as full or affiliate members, including most recently TAM Airlines and US Airways. Over this period the alliance has added more than 250 destinations to its global network, expanding by 36 per cent and boosted daily departures by more than 6,000 and lifted annual passenger carryings by more than 215 million.
"The addition of SriLankan Airlines concludes what has been the biggest and fastest growth programme by any global airline alliance, enabling oneworld to consolidate its position as the first choice global alliance for frequent international travelers the world over. In SriLankan, we are delighted to be adding another high quality, fast expanding carrier to the world's fastest growing and most highly rated global airline alliance," said Bruce Ashby, chief executive officer of the oneworld governing board.
SriLankan Airlines is currently in the process of expanding its operations since peace returned to its home country around five years ago and plans further substantial expansion to its fleet and network in the next few years. Its fleet has now grown to 21 aircraft which carried 4.7 million passengers last year between its Colombo base and 32 destinations in 20 countries across Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including the oneworld hubs of Hong Kong, London Heathrow, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow Domodedovo and Tokyo Narita.
Although Colombo is already a point on the oneworld network there is currently only limited connectivity: Cathay Pacific and Malaysia Airlines serve the Sri Lankan capital from Hong Kong and Kuala Lumpur, while Royal Jordanian has a link from Amman. Efforts are now being made for other alliance members to introduce links into the country.
Alongside its home market, SriLankan Airlines also provides access into the Maldives, a popular high-end leisure market from both Europe and Asia. The flag carrier is currently the largest international operator into the Maldives archipelago and will provide alliance members with new connectivity into a high-yield market. However, it is SriLankan Airlines strong presence in southern India that will likely bring particular benefits to oneworld and its entry to the alliance will bring two further destinations to its route map - Tiruchirapalli in India and Hambantota in Sri Lanka.
In our analysis below we look at how the entry of Qatar Airways last year and Sri Lankan Airlines this week has strengthened oneworld’s activities in the Indian market. It now serves 13 points in the country but has seen capacity grow by 52.8 per cent following the addition of the Qatar Airways network and a further 22.6 per cent following SriLankan Airlines’ alliance debut.