ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday June 08, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 54

Mihin Air’s controversial CEO removed

By Rohan Abeywardena

Aviation Minister Chamal Rajapaksa has finally shown the door to Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, the controversial head of the now grounded and troubled budget carrier Mihin Lanka, and has installed a new acting CEO.

The new CEO Anura Bandara, a former SriLankan top manager assumed duties on Tuesday. According to insiders he has been handpicked by the Minister to evaluate all options with a view to resume flights early.

According to unconfirmed reports what made the Minister to finally act was the canvassing of signatures for a petition among Mihin employees by those loyal to Mr. Gunawardena.

Mr. Gunawardena who was to leave at the end of April, claimed last week that he would resume flights next month with dry leased aircraft, while understating by as much as one billion rupees the mountain of losses he had run up.

In his last media briefing that week in understating the airline’s losses he claimed that it owed the Petroleum Corporation Rs.400 million, but no sooner he uttered those words Petroleum Minister corrected him by stating that the outstanding was more than Rs 700 million.

Sources said the airline’s losses were now nearing the four billion rupee mark, with daily interest on unsettled borrowings to banks alone running to millions of rupees. The carrier has still not paid its managers for the month of May. Since Mihin has taken virtually everything on lease, including some hastily acquired second hand ground handling equipment at a monthly rental of more than US$ 200,000, the lease rentals too are said to be piling up to insurmountable levels. The costly equipment and two brand new buses have been idling at the BIA for the last several months without being put to use.

The previous CEO also advertised to recruit pilots, engineers and other technical staff last month to charter two aging aircraft from France on dry lease, but The Sunday Times reliably learns that there were only two applicants-- one for a pilot’s slot and the other to be an engineer, but both were unqualified.

As one possible way of coming out of its morass Mr. Bandara has appointed a committee to hold discussions with the national carrier on how to cooperate and harmonize each others resources so that both can benefit.

Having joined SriLankan in 1979 as a junior executive, Mr. Bandara rose to the position of Route Development Manager for West Asia, Asia and Australia. During the Emirates Management he was reduced to the level of Manager Kuwait. Thereupon he filed action against the airline and those cases and inquiries are yet pending.

Aviation sources ruled out Mihin Air resuming flights any time soon barring some miracle simply due to the dire straits the entire airline industry was in due to spiralling cost of fuel. This week even giant carriers like Continental and United announced either laying off of thousands of employees or grounding hundreds of aircraft owing to the sorry situation.

But sources blamed the crisis in Mihin primarily to hasty decisions of its previous CEO.

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