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Lessons from the vision of Upali Wijewardena

Sri Lankans born before 1970 may remember the closed economy with Dr. N.M. Perera (minister of finance during 1970 – 77). Masses marked months to buy a refrigerator or get a telephone connection. Transistor radios, light bulbs, umbrellas, wrist watches, ball-point pens & even razor blades were a luxury those days. A farmer with a 6 battery torch light was a hero in the village. Few notable Sri Lankans used the opportunity to broaden their business base & the showpiece was late Upali Wijewardena. It is believed that NMP helped Upali to venture into the emerging tigers in the Far East that were already opening doors for adventurous investors from overseas. By early 1977 majority were to say no to the closed economics of NMP. He had to decide if he his party LSSP was running solo or with SLFP of PM Sirima at the July 1977 election.  To reciprocate the favors Upali had offered approx 200,000 LKR to NMP’s LSSP go solo (Ref. Media). LSSP lost its seats, UNP got a 5/6th majority & decided to liberalize the economy. Upali being the adventurous investor already in Malaysia was the obvious choice to head the newly formed Greater Colombo Economic Commission to attract FDIs. His vision to establish free trade zones in Katunayake & Koggala etc. is still paying dividends. When talks about electing the 2nd Executive President in 1988 were getting heated, Upali disappeared with few others on February 13th 1983 while flying home from Malaysia in his private Lear Jet (L35A). As he already had small planes & helicopters before purchasing the L35A, if he survived he would have promoted internal air travel to boost economic activity & especially tourism. If Sri Lankans wish to promote internal air travel to boost the economy, there are new lessons from the world.

Hydrogen Plane in China

Chinese aeronautical engineers recently successfully tested the four seat hydrogen internal combustion aircraft prototype in Shenyang, Liaoning in the North. At an altitude of 200 meters it has sufficient power & an acceptable level of vibration while producing good performance. It is 8.2M in length & is capable of high pressure gas hydrogen storage of up to 4.5KG. Its cruising speed is 180KMPH. The maximum thermal efficiency of the plane’s hydrogen internal combustion engine is in excess of 43%. With the increased concerns on climate change & carbon emissions etc. in the aviation industry, aircrafts using hydrogen fuel will be more favored in the future (Ref. Liaoning General Aviation Academy).

This is the first independently developed general aviation aircraft in China to be powered by a hydrogen internal combustion engine. China has been supporting SL governments to strengthen its air capacity since the civil unrests in 1971. Sri Lankans who were concerned about using Sea Planes transporting tourists to the regions few years ago should read more about other countries that are attracting more tourists with value added services. It was reported that an Air Ambulance service will commence operations from the Maldives in the near future. Sri Lankan companies should also initiate similar services to promote tourism. It will also create related job opportunities for the youth trained in aeronautical engineering.

By Prof. Samitha Hettige

(Views expressed are personal)

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