Fly to Arugam Bay?

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Blue Skies 1 Comment/s
01 October 2007 14:48:47

Sri Lanka to revive ‘open skies’ aviation project

Oct 01, 2007 (LBO) A?a??a?? Sri Lanka is planning to revive an initiative to encourage civil aviation and aerial sports in the island after security restrictions resulting from an internal conflict all but killed the industry.

The ‘Ruhunu Open Skies’ programme designed to promote the use of Sri Lankan airspace for commercial, educational and recreational aviation activities will become law soon, said Chira Fernando, a member of the newly formed Sri Lanka Aeronautical Society (SLAeS).

“So there’ll be an area where people can fly without too many restrictions,” Fernando, an international airline pilot who had been flying for 39 years told a group of aviation professionals at the society’s first meeting on Sunday.

This will open up possibilities for a range of activities from ultra-light aircraft flying and hot air ballooning to para-gliding and model aircraft flying, he said.

The area demarcated for development of domestic civil aviation under the ‘Ruhunu Open Skies’ covers the coastal belt from Kalutara to Arugam Bay in Pottuvil and the adjacent 200 nautical mile maritime economic zone.

The region has three airfields namely Katukurunda, Koggala and Weerawila that can provide the basic support infrastructure required for aviation.

Civil Aviation Authority chairman Paddy Mendis told the meeting that the open skies programme would not be confined to the south only.

He said he was aware of the security problems that led to restrictions on private flying but said that most of these could be overcome to enable the revival of domestic aviation in the island.

Sri Lankan banned private flying in 1995 after fears that Tamil Tigers could use aircraft for attacks.

The Tigers did in fact reveal they had aircraft earlier this year when they used single-engine light aircraft fitted with small bombs for attacks near Colombo which however did not cause much damage.

Some of the restrictions imposed on domestic flying earlier have been eased especially to enable private domestic operators to fly passengers and cargo to the northern Jaffna peninsula which has been cut off from the mainland as the Tigers control the land route.

But prevailing restrictions forced some private companies and flying schools to close and an exodus of aviation professionals and cadet pilots abroad.

New restrictions have even banned the flying of radio-controlled model aircraft owing to fears that the Tigers could use them for attacks.

Mendis, a former air force commander, said it was necessary to distinguish between what was possible and probable.

“Blowing up houses using model aircraft is limited to Hollywood,” he said.

Likewise, he added, hang gliders can fly at a top speed of 30 miles an hour and not higher than 500-600 feet, and could be hit by soldiers armed with rifles.


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