ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, July 22, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 08

Mihin Air flying in turbulent conditions

By Rohan Abeywardene

The Government funded budget airline Mihin Air is reportedly planning to charter an additional aircraft despite its existing two aircraft carrying only about 50% of their capacity,.

Mihin Air CEO Sajin Vass Gunawardena has been out of the country with a team for more than a week and attempts to get information from Finance Manager Ms. G. Wanigasekera proved futile. She refused to comment and directed us to contact the CEO...

Head of Finance Sajiva Suaris too asked us to contact their CEO, but when told he has been out of the country for more than a week, Mr. Suaris requested us to contact him next Monday.

The Sunday Times learns that the CEO and at least one other official had gone to Turkey to select a third aircraft for the airline. The airline’s Flight Controller Suresh Raju however said no final decision had been taken on acquiring a third aircraft.

The Company already pays more than US $ 1.5 million a month for the two aircraft taken on wet lease from Bulgaria and Turkey. The aircraft to be leased from Best Air, Turkey is on the basis that it will be utilized for a minimum of 350 hours of flying per month at the rate of US $ 2,750 per block hour.

Meanwhile Mihin Air has run up an unpaid fuel bill of Rs. 60 million to the CPC, this is Rs 10 million higher than the amount revealed by the JVP in Parliament. It also owes large sums to Airport and Aviation Services Ltd in unpaid landing and parking charges.

Mihin Air in addition to making the above wet lease charges, it is learned has undertaken to pay hotel accommodation of the crew of at least one of the aircraft, provide them transport and also pay each crew member a per diem allowance of Euro 60. Sources also charged that since there are no financial controls, it has resulted in the CEO spending as he pleases. Even his current visit abroad running to more than a week to select an aircraft is seen as a good example of this profligacy.

A state bank is also accused of releasing large amounts of dollar notes to the officials of the airline in violation of all exchange control regulations. In one trip alone the bank had released more than US $ 45,000 in cash to airline officers, sources said.

In a desperate bid to attract passengers, sources point out that Mihin Air has been quoting unbelievably low prices. For example the advertised cost of a return ticket to Trichy and Trivandapuram which includes an offer to carry 100 kg of baggage per passenger is only Rs. 8,000/-. The return ticket to Bangkok with a baggage allowance of 75 kg is quoted at Rs.14,900/-.

The JVP recently revealed in Parliament that the government-owned Lankaputra Bank headed by Sajin’s father A. Vass Gunawardena, had invested its assets in Mihin Air. The airline appears to have also run into a problem with the Civil Aviation Department following the sudden recent departure of its Flight Operations Manager Capt. Nihal Gunawardena along with its Financial Advisor Senaka Chandrasekera.

According to its Flight Operations Manual filed with the Director General Civil Aviation, the airline’s Flight Operations Manager has to be a Sri Lankan with an Air Transport Pilot License, but it no longer has an officer with an ATPL. DG Civil Aviation Parakrama Dissanayake when questioned in this regard said the company had made a request regarding this issue and they were considering it. He said only after a decision was taken he would be in a position to announce it.

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Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.