Colombo – Busy till a few months ago in pounding LTTE targets in the then rebel-held areas, the Sri Lankan Air Force on Monday launched its tourist service with the inaugural flight taking off from here for high-security Palaly Airbase in the northern Jaffna peninsula.
Domestic flights for the convenience of passengers will also be launched for Eastern Trincomalee and the Central city of Sigiriya shortly, the Air Force said.
The passenger flight to Palaly took off on Monday morning from the Colombo airport as a small crowd cheered and clapped. The inaugural service was offered at concessional rates.
Peace having returned to the northern Wanni region after the troops vanquished the rebel Tamil Tigers in May, the Air Force has now decided to shift gears by contributing to the tourism sector — launching the Helitours service.
Flights to Jaffna will take off from Ratmalana Air Force base in Colombo on Monday, Wednesday and Friday every week in a Y-12 aircraft of the Air Force.
“While the Sri Lankan citizens can go to Palaly, the foreigners would still have to seek clearance from the Defence Ministry,” an official said.
Sri Lankan passengers will be required to produce the national identity card while the foreigners must forward their passports, he said.
There will be a thrice-weekly flight to Jaffna with the return ticket costing 19100 Sri Lankan Rupees, Wing Commander Dayal Wijaratne, who is heading Helitours, said.
The charter flight service will operate a once-a-week flight to the tourist town of Sigiriya in Central Sri Lanka on Saturdays returning on the same day to Colombo, Wing Commander Wijaratne said adding the return airfare will be fixed at 9,000 Sri Lankan Rupees.
The return ticket price from Ratmalana (Air Force airport in Colombo) to Trincomalee will be 15,300 Sri Lankan Rupees and the flight will operate on Saturdays, returning the following day.
The Helitours service also includes transportation from international to domestic destinations, while in dollar terms the flight rates per head would be from $70 upwards, officials said.
The authorities have already opened a counter of Helitours in the international airport at Colombo to assist the tourists in using the facility.
The officials said Helitours has entered into a competition with the other airlines and tour operators and hoped this will bring about a reduction in package prices that will bring in more tourists.