Business Times

Our skies are safe

By Capt Elmo Jayawardena

No one asked me to write this story. It’s about aviation and let me keep the aeroplane jargon to a minimum. I am a Sri Lankan and this is a proud home-grown matter. I have been long enough in the aviation game to know a thing or two about how aeroplanes fly and airlines operate and who takes care to keep them safe in costly flight safety matters when the theme song among the new-world Wilber Wrights is to make money. We Sri Lankans shoot fast and condemn on most matters, like how we went Guinness eating Kiribath. Let’s raise hands and praise too, if such is warranted in genuine analysis.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) is a very powerful body that has become the judiciary of aviation safety throughout the world. ICAO was born in Chicago with a convention in 1944 where 52 nations took part and became signatories to an organisation responsible for sky safety. Today there are 190 states holding membership and they are all audited by the expert teams of ICAO as to how well they operate. This has little to do with airlines, but all to do with Civil Aviation authorities in each country. The custodian of aviation in a nation is thus examined and rated and accepted or rejected as a worthy member of the ICAO safety family.

The auditing process of ICAO began in 1999, to label countries as to who is safe and who is not. By now most of the member states have completed their clinical scrutiny and have been re-christened with the results. The good, the bad and the ugly had been branded accordingly.

This safety audits are a serious business, those who pass, holler to the sky and get cheered. Those who fail are ‘danne down’ and gets rehabilitated till such times the Solomons of Aviation feel they are fit to be part of the approved elite who ensure the skies are safe.

That is the explanation to non aviators; of course don’t think that ICAO’s entire inspecting “holier than thous” are venerated and ‘perapu raththaran.’ That will be the day! Of course there will be a Judas in the jury who knows who and hence sits in a gilded office and travels champagne class thanks to who met whom and had cocktails. It is the same old soup, only thicker. Let’s leave that part out, at times what is not said does matter.

The Sri Lankan Civil Aviation Authority underwent the audit in October. The graph presented below shows how we fared. Different sections of administration and regulations and how such is operated had been put under the microscope to draw lines of comparison. Now don’t ask me who made the graph, it wasn’t me as I have no time to doctor documents fraudulently to praise my country. The lines are drawn from ICAO results. We came out winners and stood better than Australia and the UK and nuke powered incredible India. We ran close to the USA and lost to them on personal training. Man! Don’t forget they sent astronaut Armstrong to the moon way back in 1969 and we are still trying to figure out what to do when it rains and the Dandugama bridge floods and people cannot get to the airport. Yes, we were second to the US on that count of training, they do have the money to spend which we don’t, ‘scandalum magnatum’ he who has the most gold has the most justice. But, mark my words, our skies are safe and it is not a self created boast of brilliance or a statement of snob value from us, but a verdict from the ‘powers that be’ in ICAO.

From our ‘little dot’ role in the world map we’ve done very well. We have run with giants and won more than most would have thought we could. We have swum in tadpole fashion in the goggle eyed goldfish bowl of aviation and held our own, as good as many and better than most. I raise my hat to the Civil Aviation Authority in Sri Lanka and to the people who led their respective teams to face international audits and to be rated among the best as custodians of flight safety.

We did much better than the ‘world average.’ (See Graph)
This is no easy task. The visiting Jeremiahs ask in advance close to a thousand questions and we romped home with 90% success. The ones we missed were not directly related to significant aviation safety but matters peripheral that gives the polish to the product. They also check how we comply with ICAO standards and recommended practices and there too we raised a winning flag.

What does all this mean? A lot of hard work and preparation and a thousand more matters to be taken care of to keep the floor clean. Bureaucratic dust had to be swept or vacuumed and the operational dirt eradicated to ensure our activities related to safety wasn’t rusted or discoloured. This isn’t something you can fast track or re-wind or pause. It needs proper evaluations of all procedures and legalities, a lot of adding and subtracting to remove the unwanted and retain the ICAO accepted flight safety nucleus. The team to face the audit did need a correct leader, professional and knowledgeable who could fight fair and firm defending the blows that came to dent the practises of safety. The Director General of Civil Aviation does stand to be cheered. Names are not important, achievements are and it is the totality that I salute.

ICAO has come and gone and we hold our heads high. Things are changing rapidly in Sri Lanka, new ports and new airports and new roads and new Monteros. New leaders come to head departments and whether they are qualified or connected is a million dollar question. It has always been that way as long as I can remember, the ancient tableau. Yet, some fields need pure professionalism and aviation certainly does, especially in the matters that deal with sky safety.

We’ve won our laurels in a fair field. So many from the Civil Aviation Authority have worked so hard to place us on that international stage today, recognised respectfully for Sri Lanka to be rated as a sky that is safe. I hope it stays that way. The progress of the country is on ‘over drive,’ aviation hub, regional training center, new runways and new aeroplanes and maybe a few new pseudo Aladdins too rubbing magic lamps they bought in Switzerland. For four decades and more I’ve seen no genies appearing with mythical answers. It is professionalism we need, it is professionalism we displayed when the auditors came, it is professionalism that will make us stand proud in the world of aviation.

We have it now, let’s keep it that way. Sky safety is no place to compromise. Capt Elmo was a former Chief Pilot of Air Lanka and an instructor Captain with Singapore Airlines for twenty years and now trains pilots for the Boeing Co in their Singapore Campus

The black dashed line is the world average – below that are the ‘good boys’ above the dashed line are the damned.
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