Due to bad recruitment policies in a country where there are more than 100 Commercial Pilots Licence (CPL) holders, in addition to pilots available in the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF), the national carrier, after 20 years of existence still has 13 expatriates Captains and three expatriate First Officers, a committee has reported.
According to the committee appointed to study the Promotional Procedures of pilots in AirLanka this situation “displays the management’s callous disregard to the needs of the country and their lack of a sense of patriotism.”
This commission headed by an aviation consultant included Lal Liyanarachchi, Director General of Civil Aviation, Captain S. Manamperi, Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services Ltd and A. V.J. M. Weerakkody, operations Director of the SLAF.
The report states that “while in the subject of flight safety, we quote instances where the management had compromised flight safety.
“Employment of pilots over the age of 60: This is against international standards. The company had requested and obtained dispensation from the Director General of Civil Aviation to continue with expatriate pilots beyond the age of 60 years. Some countries whose permission was sought to fly to their territory with these Captains in command had refused permission. The ICAO team who visited Sri Lanka recently condemned this practice and consequently, this had been discontinued.
“AirLanka sought and obtained dispensation from the DGCA to delay the second mandatory simulator check within a 12 month period. The Manual requires that every pilot should keep his licence current by undergoing a simulator check every six months. During the period 1995-1996 the DGCA had dispensations on 13 occasions in respect of 72 pilots. The DGCA had addressed a strong letter of warning to AirLanka and requested it not to apply to him in future for such dispensations.
The report further says “with a view to manning the cockpit with Sri Lankans in all three types of aircraft, L1011, A320 and A340, we recommend that AirLanka be instructed to streamline procedures, relax unnecessary restrictions on local personnel and prepare an accelerated programme of upgrading Second Officers to First Officers, and First Officers to Captains. In this exercise the five year rule could be relaxed in their favour and every opportunity given for them to complete the necessary flying hours and sectors. It is felt that any additional expenditure incurred on this will be more than compensated in the long run by the savings on salaries of expatriates.”
To underline this recommendation the Committee had cited the case of a first officer,S. J. Jayasekera. He joined AirLanka in 1989 after 17 years of service in the SLAF where his last rank was that of Squadron Leader. When he joined AirLanka he was recruited as cadet pilot. At the time he joined, the Direct Command Scheme was in existence and he looked forward to the day he would be a Captain. He worked assiduously and qualified for selection for command training in November 1995 only to be told that the requirements had been changed in 1994 and that he should now fulfil the new requirements for Initial Command.”
“This is not only unfair but also violates recognised personnel procedures. We recommend that Mr. Jayasekera be immediately taken up for command training. This will enable the airline to dispense with the services of an expatriate captain, the report says.
Meanwhile, President Kumaratunga in a letter dated 13 June 97 addressed to the Minister of Tourism and Aviation Dharmasiri Senanayake stated “I write with reference to your letter dated 17th May 1997 on the above subject.
The recommendations of the Committee regarding Promotion of Pilots in AirLanka Ltd, seems to be reasonable and well studied. I agree with the proposals and suggest that you proceed to implement them.”
However, ‘The Sunday Times’ learns that todate these recommendations had not been implemented.
The Committee observed that more pilots would have come before them if it were not for fear of victimisation. We heard representations with a request that they should not be quoted, that the Manager, Flight Operations, the Chief Pilots and the Instructors were together and that any pilot stepping out of line would be victimised by grounding or adjusting rosters to their disadvantage”. The Committee says it is at a loss to understand how Indian first officers were employed at a salary of US dollars 3000 when the Captain’s salary was as stated by the Chairman, only US dollars 3019. This is an anomaly which needs to be examined.
The Committee feels that with the talent and experience available in AirLanka and outside AirLanka e.g. those who are in the volunteer SLAF, AirLanka management had been both unmindful of wasteful expenditure and unpatriotic. To the Committee it is unthinkable that the AirLanka management had not only tolerated but actually fostered this situation for petty reasons like preserving the seniority of individual pilots. The Committee had the impression that the Pilots Guild was manipulated by the management of flight Operations to threaten trade union action if this requirement was relaxed.”
The Committee observed that while they were in pursuit of three pilots eligible for initial command of the A320, they have now found six potential Sri Lanka Captains. Therefore they had found that the recommendation of the Chairman of AirLanka, that three Indian pilots should be selected for upgrading was unreasonable.
The Committee therefore “recommends that the six pilots should be considered for filling the immediate vacancies in the rank of Captain on the A320. Of course, they should be selected for Initial command, trained and checked out by competent examiners preferably from outside.”
Though secrecy has been thrown around highly sensitive negotiations for the privatisation of the national carrier AirLanka informed sources say a proposed deal with Emirates airlines might fall through because it is offering to buy 40% of the shares not in hard cash but in planes.
Public Enterprises Reform Commission (PERC) Chief Mano Tittawella would not reveal much except to say talks were underway with one party. But AirLanka sources said PERC was not likely to agree to the Emirates paying for the shares in anything other than hard currency.
Emirates officials also said it appeared that PERC would not accept the offer made by the airlines representative Tim Clarke during ongoing talks.
Meanwhile a senior AirLanka union official has asked for a meeting with PERC officials to discuss what any privatisation or takeover would mean.
Union leader Leslie Devendra said talks with the respective buyer was so far clouded in secrecy, but PERC had assured the union would be briefed soon.
Nine percent of the shares are likely to be distributed among the workers if the deal goes through, The Sunday Times learns.
“The infusion of some new blood into AirLanka would be good. AirLanka has stagnated for the last 18 years largely due to political interference. However more transparency is required. The future of AirLanka and its employees should be assured in the event of the airline being privatized,” the union leader added.
Some AirLanka officials say the national carrier is now making a profit but it needs money to buy new planes because two of the four planes in the Tristar Fleet were too old and needed to be replaced.
Despite a boycott by the UNP and the main Tamil party – the TULF – and the looming threat of violence, polls chief Dayananda Dissanayake is confident of conducting a fair and successful local election in the Jaffna district.
Nominations for 17 local councils in the Jaffna district and one in Kilinochchi will be received from Tuesday till December 23.
In an interview with The Sunday Times, Mr. Dissanayake said there would be some 571,000 voters, about 24,000 of them being new voters. The UNP and other opposition parties have alleged that voter lists are outdated or incomplete in view of the prevailing situation and a fair election cannot be held.
Elections will be held to the Municipal Council in Jaffna, the Urban Councils of Chavakachcheri, Pt. Pedro and Velvettiturai, 13 Pradeshiya Sabhas in Jaffna and one in Kilinochchi.
Excerpts from the interview.
Q: The situation in Jaffna is volatile. How will you cope ?
A: It is nothing new to our staff. It was a volatile situation in 1980 too in the North and East and we coped quite well. Both Sinhala and Tamil election staffers will be going to Jaffna. Our Sinhala staff speak very good Tamil.
The 476 polling stations will be well guarded by police while the army guards the Peninsula in general.”
Q: What about the safety of the candidates?
A: The police will guard them and the parties contesting can ask the Ministry of Defence for additional security if necessary.
Q: Are you prepared for a crisis where the LTTE may try to scuttle the polls?
A: Tight security will be provided by the police and army. Scuttling of elections is nothing new to us. We were threatened at the Presidential and Provincial Council elections in 1988 and Parliamentary elections in 1989. I don’t think the LTTE will threaten us. We are not politicians but public servants.
Q: What about impersonation?
A: I am hopeful that impersonations could be curbed. I believe that even those parties not contesting the elections will closely watch the conduct of the elections.
Q: Will there be foreign observers?
A: I don’t think we need them for a one day election.
Q: Some Parties have sought a postponement of elections. What’s your view?
A: As in some other countries, I as Commissioner of Elections hold no rights to postpone elections. I cannot decide about the holding of elections.
Q: You sound optimistic that the 476 polling stations and the candidates will be adequately guarded and of holding clean polls. But many have reservations.
A: One must think positively and if there was major danger, the President would postpone the local elections as she did last year at the request of the Tamil political Parties. I will go to Jaffna if and when necessary.
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