Air Ceylon came into being even before independence in 1948 when the airline was setup the year before with a trio of war surplus DC-3s. The aircraft were used for route proving trials, pilot training and flood relief operations prior to the December 10th start of scheduled operations.
In 1949 an agreement was signed with Australian National (ANA) by which a pair of DC-4 were leased to operate the Colombo to London via Karachi, Tel Aviv and Rome route. Later the service was extended to Sydney via Singapore and Jakarta however in 1953 Air Ceylon dropped the partnership after TWA Connies and BOAC Comets led to a serious drop in passengers.
It joined up with KLM from 1956 operating a leased L-749 Constellation named ‘Mahadevi’ operating ‘Sapphire Service’ which ended at Amsterdam. In 1958 the L-749 was replaced by a KLM Super Connie named ‘Soma Devi’ registered 4R-ACH. She lasted for only two years before being replaced with a KLM Electra however in 1962 the airline again switched partners and turned to BOAC.
The L-1049 was returned to KLM, where she was originally delivered as an L-1049E on 25th May 1954, and was leased to Iberia five months later where she became EC-AQL. She remained with the Spanish carrier for only six months and was returned to KLM again. Withdrawn from use at the end of 1962 and stored at Amsterdam she was finally broken up in July 1964.
Jet services began using BOAC Comet 4s operating to London via Karachi, Cairo and Rome a well as Singapore via Kuala Lumpur. VC-10s were later used but none of these aircraft wore the full colours of Air Ceylon unlike the Constellations.
The airline’s own fleet was bolstered in 1964 when a new HS748 was added though the addition of the temperamental Nord 262 in 1967 was less successful. In 1969 a single Trident 1 was purchased enabling the expansion of the regional route network. This aircraft, 4R-ACN, was originally intended for Channel Airways but ntu.
In 1972 Ceylon became Sri Lanka and yet again switched its partner, this time to UTA of France. A DC-8 was leased and subsequently purchased so that for the first time Air Ceylon operated its own long-haul services. A second HS748 also arrived allowing the final retirement of the DC-3s.
All was not well however and as with many 3rd World airlines of the period the stewardship of the airline itself was under attack. Mismanagement and corruption led to the DC-8 being impounded and long-haul services were suspended at the end of 1977 (after a 720 was leased). The Trident and two HS748s soldiered on domestically and on regional routes but in September 1978 one of the HS748s was lost in a bombing on the ground. Operations continued but the decision was made to replace the airline with Air Lanka which started operations in September 1979. Air Ceylon faded away with services ending before the end of the year.
Still with 32 years of operations the carrier never suffered a single fatality which is an impressive feat considering the period and operating conditions. The Trident owned by Air Ceylon was retired in July 1978 but was used as a ground trainer for 20 years and finally broken up in 1998!
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: