Lanka'a national interest in Sri Lankan Airlines
Development of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA)
Our Skies are safe
Airline pilots, doctors and lawyers - Airline pilots and surgeons work in high-risk environments.
Disaster, here we come! - On July 24 an Iranian ‘Aria tours’ Illushin IL- 62
Is an accident a crime ? - An airplane pilot’s view
I have a dream - So the defence forces have discovered a seventh airstrip
General aviation and national security - With reference to your editorial...
Betrothal in the sky, pilot as the medium
How to counter ‘Flying Tigers’
Combating LTTE airpower
Could a model aircraft be used as a weapon of destruction?
An Airline that went nowhere - Begun with great fanfare on September 1, 1979...

Can SriLankan go it alone? - The million dollar question in many people’s minds...

Double anniversary in aviation and transportation - February 28, 2010 marks
SriLankan Airlines turns 33




Lanka’s National Interest in SriLankan Airlines



Dr. Ruwantissa Abeyratne


The strongest driver of aero politics is national interest. As World War II was ending, major powers began to realise that air transport was extremely important to development and that a burgeoning industry would need State support.

This trend had started even earlier, when in the 1930s major powers in Europe and North America had established airlines through State support as their national symbol and economic representatives.

Ceylon Airways started in 1947 as Ceylon’s first national carrier. It later took the name Air Ceylon and was fully State owned. Air Ceylon ceased operations in 1978 when it was replaced by Air Lanka. Air Ceylon used a Douglas DC-3 Dakota for its initial services from its home base in Ratmalana Airport. These services were both domestic and regional. 

A SriLankan Airbus

The aircraft crashed on December 21 1949, causing the Government of Ceylon to obtain a Lockheed Constellation as a replacement. In 1962, services from Colombo-Ratmalana to London were started, using de Havilland Comet 4 Jets leased from the then BOAC (which is now British Airways. In 1964 the logo was changed from a stylized ‘AC’ to a gold Hansa Bird in a red background.

Air Ceylon went on to obtain an Avro Hawker Siddley 748 turboprop in 1964. The type became the mainstay of Air Ceylon’s regional and domestic routes and would continue until the airline was closed down in 1978.

Three years later in 1967 the airline bought a Nord 262 to serve its domestic routes. International services of Air Ceylon commenced in 1967 from Katunayake airport which is now Bandaranaike International Airport.

Air Ceylon used BOAC VC 10 aircraft for this purpose. However, in 1969, a Hawker Siddley Trident IE jet was obtained to served the medium haul routes.

In 1972, Air Ceylon leased a Douglas DC 8-53 from the French carrier UTA and used this aircraft for its European operations including the Colombo-Paris route. In 1977 this aircraft was replaced by another of the same type and the airline also leased a Boeing 720 jet. Air Ceylon was closed down in 1978 by the government of President Jayawardene.

In July 1979 the Sri Lankan Government set up Air Lanka. Air Lanka initially operated two Boeing 707 aircraft leased from Singapore Airlines. During the 1980s, the airline increased the number of destinations it serviced and made additions to its fleet. In 1990 Air Lanka served 26 destinations. In December 1992 the airline purchased its first Airbus A320.

In 1998, Air Lanka, which was state owned, was part-privatized to the Dubai based Emirates Group when Emirates and the Sri Lankan Government signed an agreement for a 10 year strategic partnership.

This agreement would include exclusive rights for all ground handling and airline catering at Bandaranaike International Airport for a ten year period.

Emirates bought a 40% stake worth US$70 million (which it later increased to 43.6%) in Air Lanka, and sought to refurbish the airline’s image and fleet.

The Government retained the majority of the stake in the airline but gave full control to Emirates for investments and management decisions. In 1998, the Air Lanka brand was retired and SriLankan airlines was born.

National interest

National interest in airlines is a common factor throughout the world and nations have zealously guarded and looked after the interests of their national carriers. Sri Lanka is no exception. There are various drivers of national interest.

Arguably, the starting point of national interest lies in the commercial interests of the national carrier whose interests are often protected by the State the nationality of which the airline bears. With the exponential growth of the air transport industry, the significance of national interest in a global industry such as aviation has grown over the years.

More importantly, recognition of national interests is entrenched in international treaties. This fact is explicitly reflected in article 6 of the Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago on December 7, 1944.

This provision effectively precludes scheduled international air services from being operated over or into the territory of a contracting state, except with the special permission or authorization of that state, and in accordance with the terms of such permission or authorization.

The natural corollary to this restriction is the signing of bilateral air services agreements between States that lay down conditions for the operation of commercial air services into each other’s territories.

An early DC-3

This promotes national interests and protectionism, although liberalisation has taken over in many States who do not rigidly adhere to this principle of this provision and allow their skies to be open (or practice managed open skies policies) with regard to commercial operations of foreign carriers to promote trade through aviation.

National ownership and control of airlines has always been a national prerogative and continues to form a key issue within the parameters of national interest in aviation. The airline industry is unique in terms of trade and competition. It is the only industry which gives States the prerogative to impose conditions on ownership and control of airlines.

This discretion enables States to withhold permission for landing rights in their territories if they are not satisfied that substantial ownership and effective control of the airline seeking permission to land for commercial purposes are not vested in nationals of a Contracting State which lends its nationality to that airline.

The International Air Services Transit Agreement (IASTA), which is the only international agreement that provides for conditions upon which ownership and control of airlines may be restricted, in Article 1, Section 5, provides that each Contracting State reserves the right to withhold or revoke a certificate or permit to an air transport enterprise of another State in any case where it is not satisfied that substantial ownership and effective control are vested in nationals of a Contracting State, or in case of failure of such air transport enterprise to comply with the laws of the State over which it operates, or to perform its obligations under this agreement.

Commencing the early fifties, States responded, both through the Chicago Convention, and through IASTA, to the growth of civil aviation by increasingly availing themselves of the prerogative given by IASTA to withhold or revoke an airline’s operational permit to enter into their territories for purposes of landing and takeoff on a commercial basis.

Flag carriers

By the same token, States used this right to restrict foreign investment in their own airlines or “Flag carriers” by including a clause with specific conditions on nationality of their aircraft in the bilateral air services agreements which they signed with other States in conformity with Article 6 of the Chicago Convention.

There is no documented definition of, or agreed meaning to the term “substantial ownership and effective control”. This in limine creates a certain ambivalence in the field of trade and competition in the airline industry, particularly for an airline that is not fully owned and operated by a State or instrumentality of State.

The real difficulty in arriving at a conclusive definition of the term arises when an airline is privatised and the government no longer holds the majority of the shares and there is no demonstrable evidence of national ownership.

The international community has, as a practice,

got used to identifying ownership of an airline with the voting shares of the company, often equating “substantial ownership” to more than 50% of the voting shares.

However, it can no longer be viewed in this simplistic manner, particularly owing to the wave of privatization experienced by the airline industry.

For example, 45% of voting shares held by a private entity in a national airline may arguably be termed “substantial” ownership even though 55% of such voting shares may be held by nationals of the State which designates the airline as its national carrier.

The issue of “effective control” on the other hand is a more complex issue than ownership, as it is no longer a question of percentages but rather relates to who controls the airline concerned. In broad terms, this may mean who directs policy of the airline and hires and fires personnel.

It has been traditionally accepted in the aviation industry that relaxation of the ownership and control restrictions, as they currently exist, may increase competition.

These premises give rise to the inexorable question as to whether States still wish to retain stringent national interests in their airlines for reasons of national pride, prestige and other considerations or relax the restrictions to allow foreign investment in airlines and thus encourage competition.

If indeed States were to retain current restrictive practices for the reasons given above, they would be faced with the inevitable prospect of such restrictions impeding the emergence of new entrants and competitors in the market.

This in turn would result in monopolistic national carriers, who would have no reason or incentive to lower production costs that would pass on to the consumer in the nature of a lower cost product.

Withdrawal of current restrictions and liberalising investment in national airlines would also result in a distinct advantage for the air transport market’s ability to attract capital.

The infusion of foreign capital into the industry would in turn result in increased competition in the international market.

It follows that the result would be enhanced competition among airlines and also between States, enabling developing States in particular to actively participate in market competition and enable their carriers to effectively compete with dominant carriers.

On the issue of national competition being facilitated by the removal of ownership and control restrictions, it is relevant to note that air traffic rights which a State obtains for its airline through the process of bilateral air services negotiations that are made necessary by Article 6 of the Chicago Convention, are a national asset.

Although liberalisation of air transport is sweeping the globe with its various attractions, offering more capacity and competitive services, the bilateral air services agreement is still preventing pro-active measures of airlines to merge with each other and enter into other strategic alliances, through antiquated requirements of national ownership.

Although a blanket provision might require majority national ownership and control, airlines and States have had to contend in many instances with complex issues of nationality of members of a board of directors, the powers of a board and the powers of directors of such boards.

Often States have attempted to circumvent these difficulties by establishing a safeguard to ensure for the government concerned a “golden share” which accords the owner government a greater voice in the decision making process on issues of importance and significance to the carrier concerned.

Security issues

Apart from national political interests that have a bearing on commercial issues, aviation has attracted strong national connotations in the area of security.

This was clearly brought to bear immediately following the events of 11 September 2001 where nations of the world rallied to protect their national carriers from being grounded after the underwriters gave seven days notice on 17 September 2001 that the third party war risk insurance clause in the aircraft insurance policy which indemnified airlines against third party damage on the surface would be withdrawn.

A write back entailed grave costs for the airlines and many nations came to the rescue of their national carriers by indemnifying them at least as a short term measure.

Often the argument is adduced by States that if they were not to have a national carrier, they would have to depend on foreign carriers to bring in traffic including tourist traffic and thereby be at the mercy of such carriers who could decide when to operate or stop operating air services to their territories. This is strongly seen in instances where the national carrier comes to the rescue of its State in times of natural or man made disasters requiring relief flights and other humanitarian activities.

Sri Lanka’s national interest in its airline is a natural phenomenon that has been existing in the world since the 1930s as already mentioned. However that interest should essentially lie in good governance.

Evaluating the quality of governance of a democratically elected regime should not only be a preoccupation of the public sector but should also constitute a necessary prerogative of the people being governed.

When taking Sri Lanka’s aviation history into consideration, it becomes clear that there were three phases: the Air Ceylon phase; the Air Lanka phase; and the Srilankan Airlines phase. In the Air Ceylon phase the position of the airline as the “flag carrier” was prominent. However, from a commercial perspective, the airline operated in an era where competition was not fierce and the airline had a very small fleet that did not bring to bear the need to keep expanding its route network and inject additional capacity.

In the Air Lanka phase, particularly from the late seventies to the early nineties, competition in air transport was rampant and protectionism was the order of the day for relatively small airlines such as Air Lanka against behemoths like Singapore Airlines.

The airline prevailed upon the Government to protect the market share of the airline by controlling commercial air rights for large carriers into and out of Sri Lanka. In the Sri Lankan phase, the world was more liberalised and the airline was stable with an established market share on many of its routes.

We are still in that stage, and, with the eminently competent local staff that the airline has, there should be no unforeseen problems to maintain the high standards of the airline and its established market and to make progress. The key words or such progress would of course be good governance.

The author is a senior official at the International Civil Aviation Organization and was Head of International Relations and Insurance in Air Lanka from 1982 to 1990.

21 01 2008 - Daily News



Development of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA):
BIA will be a model airport to be proud of - Chandima P Rasaputra


Indeewara Thilakarathne

Chandima P Rasaputra

With the completion of the second Phase of the BIA development programme, BIA will see an unprecedented level of development, making it one of the best airports in the region and a model airport to be proud of.

The comprehensive master plan will include the construction of the second runway, multi-storied terminals, remote parking structures, a road network, which will be on two levels, catering for to arriving and departing passengers and complementary the allied infrastructures such as a Transit Hotel with fifty rooms at the Airport, Airport Hotel outside the Airport, a tax-free zone and a railway line from Colombo to Katunayake. The emerging infrastructure will also be augmented by the construction of the Katunayake - Colombo super high way.

In an exclusive interview with Sunday Observer, Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited, Chandima P. Rasaputra elaborates on the master plan that will make BIA, the gateway to Sri Lanka, - a passenger-friendly and model airport in the region.

Following are the excerpts of the interview

What is the current status of the BIA compared to other regional airports?

A: Currently, Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) enjoys the number one position in the region of South Asia. The airport stands out Ours is much better than any of the Indian airports in terms of facilities as well as the level of services. BIA provides. This is, of course, not my own opinion but the opinion of many of Indian airline operators such as Jet Air and Air Sahara, which are operating here.

Annually, BIA handles up to 6 million passengers and the airport has the capacity to handle up to 8 million passengers. However, as the volume goes up, naturally, it will have an impact on the portfolio of services as well.

The development programme of BIA is broken down into two Phases and each Phase is once again, broken down into two stages.

The stages and 2 of Phase I and the second have already been completed and the stage 1 of the Phase II was had been completed in early 2006.

What are the major infrastructure facilities that will come up in the second stage of Phase II of the development plan?

A: Under the Phase II stage I, basically, the new pier and aero-bridges were installed under Phase II, Stage 1. Earlier passengers were transported up to the aircraft by bus and embarked the plane in by using a ladder. Although the BIA, at the moment, has eight aero-bridges at the moment, arriving and departing passengers are being handled on the same level in a single pier.

However, some airports have two levels of aero-bridges; arrivals on one level and departures on another level and the aero-bridges separately handle arriving and departing passengers. Under the Stage 2 of Phase II Stage II, for which, planning has already completed, and consultation for the detailed design will commence within a one month’s time and construction project will commence in 2009.

Under the project, BIA will construct a pier with separate 2-levels of aero-bridges to separate for arriving and departing passengers. It will have 16 aero-bridges, almost doubling the current capacity.

The pier will be constructed on eight parking slots although the terminal will have two levels for arriving passengers and departing passengers.

Basically the aero-bridges can be moved on, to suit the needs. With the addition of the new pier and aero-bridges, BIA’s capacity for passenger handling will increase from 6.58 million passengers to 12 million passengers per year. Currently BIA has 25 parking areas. Once the second stage is completed, the number of parking areas for aircrafts will also increase to 32.

Some of the remote parking areas which were for cargo transport will also be utilised for passenger handling. The remote parking areas will also be put to use utilised in instances where there may be a capacity overflow or when BIA running out of capacity and aircrafts have to wait a longer than the stipulated time. In such instances, passengers will transported to the aircrafts by bus and embark by a ladder.

What is the development strategy mapped out for BIA?

A: The corner stone of the current development strategy mapped out for BIA is that we are going to make it a model airport in the region. Switzerland which is not the biggest country in Europe, but it is the model county in Europe, BIA will be a model airport in the region.

We will make BIA the most passenger friendly airport and efforts will be made to ensure total hundred per cent customer satisfaction. The service levels will be raised further to assure substantial reduction of passenger waiting time in lines. even up to the reduction of passengers’ waiting time in lines.

A major portion of fundings for the project has already been guaranteed by JBIC (Japan International Co-operation) and consultation will commence in one month’s time. The project will consist of a multi-storied terminal, remote parking structure with overhead bridge, second runway and a multi-level road network.

A fifty-room transit hotel will be constructed in the airport and another hotel may be constructed at the Eighteenth mile post. Though it is not included in the stage II, we are also exploring the possibility of setting up a Tax-free Zone and also to commission some kind of a transportation system, - a railway line from Colombo to Katunayake as well as a mono-rail operating between the airport and the eighteenth mile-post.

New face for BIA
With the expansion of the BIA, not only does it get a modern face with state-of-the-art facilities such as aero-bridges, but could proudly compete with any other airport in the South East Asian region.

How many direct and indirect employment opportunities that would be brought about by the expansion?

A: It will certainly double or triple the man power that will be needed to handle operations. The second terminal, and the number of shops that are going to be coming up in the Tax Free Zone, will bring about further a lot of employment opportunities. Additionally, the commercial activities in the Duty Free Zone will generate one third of the BIA’s income. We anticipate the creation of at least, 125 duty free shops that will emerge.

What kind of impact will the expansion have on the cargo handling capacity of BIA?

A: Currently BIA handles 150 MT of cargo and has the capacity to handle a volume of up to 250 MT with the use of the vacant idling terminal. However, it will be in operation right after the SAARC summit.

Further, the space provided for airline offices in this vacant terminal has not been utilized as of yet and will see occupation by the end of the year.In the current terminals space constructed for airline officers has not been utilised and by the end of this year.

Current space used by airline offices will be converted into additional space for new shops. airline officers will be moved to that area and the area occupied by airline officers will be taken up for shops.

BIA at a glance

Nov. 01, 1957 - British Government handed over Katunayake Royal Air Force base to Sri Lanka on November 1, 1957

Oct. 30, 1958 - Department of Civil Aviation, of Sri Lanka initiated a programme to convert the Royal Air Force base into the main International Airport of Ceylon

1962 - Canadian Government funded the initial development phase of development of Katunayake airport under the Colombo Plan.

1981 - Master Plan for Katunayake Airport was completed by Canadian joint Venture Consultants, of LEA ACRES & NORR

1987 - Phase 1 development project of Katunayake International Airport was completed. in 1998

2006 - Stage 1 of Phase 2 was completed.

Future goals

* Runway overlay and meeting requirements for large aircrafts.

* Development of Airport access road, and land side curbs, including split level terminal access.

* New Passenger terminal building (120,000m2) with segregated departure and arrival areas to accommodate 6 million annual passenger service Volume

* Pier (40 metres wide and 300 metres long) with segregated departure and arrivals

* New parking aprons to accommodate 8 aircrafts car parks and utilities

06 08 2008 - Sunday Observer



Our Skies are Safe

According to ICAO


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.

These 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)

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

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. )

28 11 2010 - Sunday Leader


Airline Pilots, Doctors and Lawyers


Capt. G.A Fernando

Airline pilots and surgeons work in high-risk environments. In the case of airline pilots, they themselves are potentially at high risk. In the case of the surgeons it is the patient who is at the high-risk end - although in some countries noted for their high levels of litigiousness, surgeons could be sued for making grave mistakes. While aviation has improved in leaps and bounds in the last 100 years, and aircraft and equipment have got more and more reliable, the human element with all its fallibility has remained the same. The human is the weakest link in the scheme of things, and the corollary of that is that a chain is as weak as its weakest link.

Accordingly, regulations decree that airline pilots must undergo semi-annual medical checkups. But not only medical checks; three times a year they must also demonstrate to the regulator that they have the knowledge, experience, and the skill, in a simulated environment, to fly with such anomalies as critical engines failed, navigational, hydraulic, and electrical systems inoperative, landing gear not working, or taking off and landing in low visibility, flying solely with reference to instruments, etc. It is also regulated that once a year airline pilots must demonstrate that they have the knowledge to operate safety equipment and carry out emergency procedures with regard to carriage of dangerous goods, ditching, and crash landings. In addition to all this it is regulated that the airline pilot demonstrates to his/her employer that he/she carries out Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) according to the ‘book’ (the Operations Manual), and is capable of being a good ‘team person’.

The manual itself is regularly perused by the regulator to be in compliance with the 18 Annexes to the ICAO convention. These Annexes were made the law of the land (in Sri Lanka) in 1969 by E. L. B. Hurulle, the then Minister of Communications. I believe that no other career or profession is as heavily regulated as that of the airline pilot. As can be seen, it is not all glamour and glory, because an individual could be failed at any time if he/she doesn’t’ measure up to the required standards. Employers also have the opportunity to use these checks to get rid of ‘difficult elements’ from the system.

Being a more recent discipline, airline pilots are more affected by medicine and law. For instance, a doctor could rule a pilot unfit to fly. A colleague of mine once went for a routine medical check a few days after the Martinair DC-8 crash at Maskeliya in December 1974. He was ruled as unfit to hold a Commercial Pilots’ Licence (CPL) as his voice was hoarse; the ENT surgeon conducting his medical examination had read in the newspapers that it was probable that the captain of the ill-fated aircraft was misheard by the duty air traffic controller at the Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake. (The rumour was that "forty miles from the airport" as given by the pilot in command was interpreted as "fourteen miles" by the air traffic control officer). The pilot’s protest that his voice had been raspy from his young days fell on deaf years.

It subsequently took this pilot over ten months to prove that he was fit to hold a CPL. To resolve the problem, he had to go to an adjoining room and telephone the president of the Medical Board to prove that his voice comes through ‘loud and clear’. There was nothing medically wrong with him. A contributing factor was that the original ENT surgeon who failed him was the brother of a powerful minister in the coalition government, and no other doctor wanted to override him. As soon as the coalition was disbanded the Pilots’ Medical Board gave him a hearing.

Then there was the case of another colleague who went to the Colombo Eye Hospital for the eyesight examination for his CPL. When testing for colour blindness the surgeon had used a faded set of Ishara plates. These are charts with coloured dots that comprise various numbers, the numbers or patterns being clearly identifiable only by those without colour blindness. Ideally, these charts must be kept away from sunlight to prevent fading, which in turn could lead to faulty readings by those being tested. However the charts given to my colleague were faded due to regular exposure to sunlight, so he was unable to discern the numbers ‘hidden’ amongst the sea of coloured dots. During a retest on a subsequent day he read them properly, but the doctor accused him of memorising the charts! After a further delay to prove that he had not done so, he had to trace the numbers with his finger!

Because of the many variables in an airline pilot’s career, once he/she joins a reputed airline, a pilot is insured against ‘loss of licence due to medical reasons’. In the old days when a pilot was medically grounded, the lawyers of the Insurance Corporation declared that said pilot was capable of alternative employment and did not make good the full settlement as indicated in the policy! In those days, insurance was a one-horse race. At one time there were as many as five airline pilots working for the national carrier who were affected by such unfair and seemingly illogical decisions. The Pilots’ Guild at that time attempted to explain that the airline pilots have over learnt a skill that is useless anywhere else. It took many years and a government change for these airline pilots to get their full insurance. It is to be hoped that the situation in Sri Lanka has changed since then.

In addition to drafting regulations, lawyers also get involved after an aviation incident or accident in more instances than in medicine, because there are devices that monitor the pilots’ actions. The so-called ‘black box’ consists of the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). They are not ‘Black’either. They are a luminous Orange! These sophisticated and invaluable items of electronic equipment should only be used as a tool to discover what happened and not to apportion blame or to institute legal action. But it seems to be easier said than done.
In June 1995 an Ansett New Zealand DHC Dash 8 turboprop aircraft crashed on its final approach to Palmerstone North in New Zealand. The Police, acting on legal advice, promptly impounded the black boxes and did not make them available to the accident investigator. Now it is law in New Zealand that the CVR and FDR cannot be used for prosecution of pilots! Sri Lanka does not have any such laws in place.

Perhaps our administrators believe that ‘accidents only happen to others’, and air safety is assumed to be good until an accident occurs. Because of these issues, although they sit behind a bulletproof door and away from public scrutiny, airline pilots are well advised to always act as if the whole world is watching them, because in the event of an accident or incident, one day they will have to defend their actions in a court of law, and in front of the world, their friends, and loved ones. In some countries surgical operations too are video recorded. I do not know whether such recordings are accessible to the lawyers in the event of litigation. But consider this: when a surgeon makes a mistake, it is called ‘surgical misadventure’. When a lawyer makes a mistake it is a ‘miscarriage of justice’. But when an airline pilot is involved in an incident or accident, even through no fault of his/her own, it is almost automatically considered ‘pilot error’!

Over 2000years ago, the Roman philosopher Cicero said "To err is human." The ability to make mistakes is on the flipside of the coin of intelligence. Medical deaths outnumber those caused by air crashes. A few years ago a report on the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) found that one in ten operations ended up with some sort of error. Some wags say that a doctor gets to bury his mistakes while an airline pilot’s mistakes bury him! Another unique challenge for the pilots is that he does not know the team he will be flying with until he reports for duty. In large airlines one might fly with a particular team member just once in a lifetime!

In World War I more pilots died of their own mistakes than enemy action. They were all flying single-pilot aircraft. Now, for the sake of redundancy there is a Pilot Flying and a Pilot Monitoring. We have shifted concept from ‘I’ to ‘We’. Over the last 100 years air safety has improved, and many processes have been put in place to minimise errors made by airline pilots: checklists, briefings, debriefings, standard call-outs, sterile flight decks, Crew Resource Management (CRM), to name a few. But all these operating procedures came at a price. Crashes occurred and blood was spilt before these reforms were introduced. Airline pilots and doctors work in real time unlike lawyers who can take out their diaries and postpone the case for another day. A pilot’s duty will finish when he parks his aircraft and goes home, while the surgeon has to carry out post-operative care for many days afterwards.

Is there any airline pilot or surgeon who can say that he does not make a single error when he is on the job? Is it now the time for surgeons to learn these error-reducing techniques from airline pilots, as in this ‘robotic and computer age’ both disciplines are fast becoming ‘hi-tech’? There are many relevant studies done on the human interaction with software, hardware and the working environment in incident/accident causation. One of the main reasons why hospital administrators all over the world are sold on the idea is that it will directly reduce potential for litigation. The new concept is known as Operating Room Management (ORM). A good pre-operative briefing will certainly cater to any anticipated emergencies, availability of equipment, and the plan of action of the surgeon along with allocation of each other’s area of responsibility. Knowing your team always helps. The air safety experts say, "Know yourself, know your team, know your equipment, know your objective
and above all asses the risks." As in aviation, the team leader sets the tone. Even the most junior crew member on a flight deck is encouraged to voice his concern, even at the point of being embarrassed if he is wrong.

Could we create the same type of atmosphere in the surgical team? For example, if a senior surgeon attempts to administer a drug that could induce a stroke and has forgotten this fact, will he be reminded by a junior team member or even an observing medical student? Checklists and standard call-outs will eliminate ambiguity; ensure a procedure is carried out correctly, every time, all the time. A sterile environment is regulated in the flight deck at critical phases, to minimise distractions and improve overall safety. The same could be carried out at critical areas of surgical operations. The debriefing will also address the question as to whether things could have been done better or differently. It could also involve thanking individual members of the team.

There is also a common thread that binds all doctors, lawyers and airline pilots. When they are exercising their chosen profession, they all feel that they are one step closer to God!

19 12 2009 - The Island


Disaster, Here We Come!


Capt. G. A. Fernando Singapore


On July 24 an Iranian ‘Aria tours’ Illushin IL- 62 aircraft hit a wall at the Mashhad airport, north east Iran, while trying to land. 17 passengers died and 23 were injured.

The Ratmalana Airport has a similar concrete wall at the Galle Road end. At night there is just one teeny weeny red light to warn the pilots. What is required is a frangible (breaking on impact) fence and not a solid wall. Many years ago a Boeing 737 aircraft impacted a solid parapet wall in India and burst into flames.

Both the operator (Sri Lanka Air Force) and the owner (Civil Aviation Authority) of the Ratmalana airport seem to be not bothered about the potential danger of such a solid structure. Will Ratmalana be next? I can only quote Jerome Lederer the former President of the Flight Safety Foundation: "If you think that flight safety is expensive, try having an accident"

03 08 2009 - The Island


Is an Accident a Crime ? An Airplane Pilot’s View


Capt. G. A. Fernando


In 1852 a Balloonist crashed in France. Although criminal proceedings were contemplated it was declared that since his descent was involuntary, he would be exempt from any court action. Besides that, when he was losing altitude he had shouted for help! When in September 1908, Orville Wright crashed and killed Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge (the first Air Crash victim of a powered aircraft), no criminal action was taken against the pilot.

However as time went on it was not only the birds and fools that flew. Air travel became a big business. Keeping the aircraft flying, cost money. More and more aircraft were now traversing the air on inter -continental flights and the equipment got larger. A single accident could kill a large number of people. (An accident, by definition is an event without apparent cause, an unexpected event, an unintentional act, chance, an unfortunate episode or a harmful event.)

Litigation against pilots involved in accidents started in 1956 when a French DC 6 aircraft crashed in Cairo, just before landing killing 49 passengers and 3 crew members. (The Crew was on duty for 22 hours!) Eight years later the Captain was found guilty of manslaughter and charged 5000 francs. This was the first time a Pilot in Command had been classified as a "criminal." The court gave due consideration to the fact that the crew had been on continuous duty for a long time. The recommendations of the International Civil Aviation Organisation's (ICAO) "Annex 13" had been ignored.

Annex 13 to the Chicago Convention pertaining to accident investigation came into force in 1951. It was developed from the original article 26 of 1944. Without question this was a landmark in terms of international cooperation in accident investigation. The Manual of Aircraft Accident Investigation developed from these recommendations outlines the objectives. "It is essential that all those concerned with an accident investigation should appreciate that the object of the investigation is to save lives and damage to property in the future by ascertaining the real causes of the accident and that the inquiry is not being held simply to find the culprit or assess blame." It goes on to say " An accident investigator is neither authorised nor required to arrive at findings of "guilty" or "not guilty" his duty is to discover all relevant facts and he has no obligation to fix the guilt, apportion blame, or recommend punishment".

After the Cairo incident a precedent was created, many cases were to follow. Capt, Russell F Kane of the Irish Airline, Aer Lingus, a practising lawyer, provides the following list.

In 1963, a de Havilland Otter aircraft crashed into a mountain in bad weather killing nine people. Two years later the Captain was sentenced to two years imprisonment with a three -year stay of execution of sentence.

In 1964, the pilot in command of a TWA B 707 was charged with criminal negligence, when his aircraft struck a powered roller following an abandoned take off in Rome, Italy. The take off was aborted when an engine fire warning sounded. The warning subsequently proved to be false. In the fire following the crash 45 people died. The pilot was later exonerated from criminal responsibility.

In 1968, a B 727 aircraft crashed in marginal weather on an approach into Taipei. Fifteen people were killed including the wife of the American Captain. The pilots were charged with manslaughter and professional negligence. Their licenses were revoked and they were forbidden to leave Taiwan. The criminal courts acquitted the defendants and released them from jail.

In 1969, a YS 11 aircraft slipped off the end of the runway following a landing at Mayasaki airport in Japan. Seven people were severely injured. The captain was sentenced to one year in prison in 1978 with a three-year stay of the sentence.

In 1972, a YS 11 aircraft, flown by the co pilot crashed into the sea during an approach into Athens airport. The Captain was charged with manslaughter but was later acquitted.

In 1972, a DC 8 aircraft ran off the side of a runway during take off from the Haneda airport, Japan. Fourteen people were injured. The Captain was later sentenced to eight months in prison with a three-year stay of the sentence.

In 1974, in Nairobi, Kenya a Lufthansa B 747 aircraft crashed immediately after lift off. The safety investigation concluded that the leading edge flaps were not extended. Seven years later the Flight Engineer only was tried and acquitted. The German court could not rule out the fact that the impact and the resulting fire had altered the position of the switches.

In 1977, a Caravelle aircraft belonging to a Swiss carrier crashed into the sea during a night approach into Funchai in Portuguese Madeira Islands. Thirty-six people died. The pilot in command who was carrying out a routine check on the other pilot was occupying the right seat. Seven and a half years after the accident both pilots were tried in Geneva and found guilty of negligence. The pilot in command was sentenced to two years in prison the other pilot was sentenced to 18 months. They appealed the court ruling. The sentences were never served because the statute of limitations for prosecuting the pilots had expired.

(NB. Capt. Kane observed that the last two cases show that the pilots may be prosecuted in more than one jurisdiction. The state where the accident occurred waived prosecution in favour of the State of Registry.)

In 1979 a Swiss DC 8 aircraft ran off the end of the runway following a landing at Athens. The Greek investigating body's report found pilot error to be the only factor contributing to the accident. In January 1982 the pilots were charged. A trial under the criminal code was scheduled for April 1983. Both pilots were found guilty and sentenced to five years and two months in prison. On an appeal supported by the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) the court acquitted the First Officer of all charges and reduced the Captains sentence to three years.

In 1983 following an accident of a B 707 aircraft in Ankara, Turkey, the Captain and Co Pilot were tried under the Turkish criminal law. The outcome of the trial is unknown.

In 1983 an AVENSA DC 9 aircraft in Venezuela suffered a fracture of the landing gear resulting in a fatal accident. Their crime was an Instrument Landing System (ILS) approach which was unreliable - a fact of which they were not advised. The failure of the left landing gear, which had been noted to have cracks (contained in the Differed Defects book for over six months), changed a long landing into a fatal accident, The Venezuelan pilots were originally sentenced to fifteen-years, a subsequent appeal reducing the charges to culpable homicide and the sentence to eight years. Eventually the President of Venezuela granted them a pardon.

In 1986 a Captain of a TU134A aircraft on a scheduled passenger flight in the Soviet Union reportedly ordered his crew to shutter the cockpit windscreen by taping paper and sunscreen in place. He wanted to attempt simulated blind landing. The landing flare began at 25 feet and the Aircraft slammed into the runway, broke into pieces and caught fire. The Captain was tried and found guilty. He received the maximum possible sentence of fifteen years in prison.

In August 1987, a B 737 aircraft on a cargo flight hit power lines on takeoff at Mexico City. More than fifty people on a highway were killed. Steps have reportedly been taken towards criminal prosecution.

In Feb 1997 a Sri Lankan Air Force AN 32 aircraft overran the runway, on take off at Ratmalana. The Russian Flight Engineer was charged with manslaughter. The Sri Lankan pilot in command, who was the longest serving operational pilot at that time, never flew with the Air Force again!

The list goes on.


As one can see there is also a big interval of time between the event and the final outcome. Meanwhile the pilot has to put his career on hold and languish in a feeling of guilt. It is also true that many of those involved have fallen ill while waiting for the verdict. That is why some pilots say that if the accident does not kill you that the inquiry surely will! The absolute reality is that the when a pilot is working, he must use the various controls and switches in the flight deck as if the whole world were watching because in the event of an unfortunate accident, he will have to defend his actions in a court of law, in the presence of his near and dear ones.

Somewhere in UK in a Royal Air Force hangar a sign -board says it all "To err is human but to forgive is not RAF policy!" How true. An airline pilot must consider himself or herself lucky to have an incident/accident -free career. Macarthur Job a retired Australian Accident Investigator and Pilot quotes from the Bible "there but for the will of God go I."

Is an accident a crime? An airplane pilot’s view - Part II

For over fifty years Civil Aviation has been subjected to three great international conventions (Chicago, Tokyo and Warsaw). The details of day-to-day operations are organized under eighteen International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annexes and associated guidance material. Unfortunately, many states have chosen not to ratify certain parts of the Conventions and "to declare a difference" with the ICAO Annexes. Once they have done that their local laws will apply in the chosen areas. Many airline pilots today fly legally blind and do not know that between the state of registry and the state where the incident/accident occurred the more restrictive law shall apply. For example if one follows the limit of eight hours "between the bottle and the throttle" (the limits of the Sri Lankan Air Navigation Regulations) and has an accident in Mumbai, India, one will be guilty of flying under the influence of alcohol, as the limits in India are twelve hours between!

All crewmembers that were found guilty were going about their job to the best of their ability. Certainly the Pilots didn't fly with the intention of crashing. In contrast, a Surgeon, when he loses a patient on the operating table is not usually charged for manslaughter. The big difference is that the Surgeon usually loses one life at a time while the pilot may lose much more sometimes including his own. It is generally accepted that no other job in the world is regulated to this extent. After obtaining the pilots' qualifications, they have to prove twice a year that they are healthy enough to fly. They have to prove twice a year that they are qualified to occupy the pilot's seat to the licensing authority of their country. They have to demonstrate to the Aviation Authorities' pilot instructor/supervisor that he can cope with all the emergencies that come their way. They have to prove that they can fly solely with reference to instruments and that they are aware of all the safety procedures of the Cabin crew by an exam once a year. Then they have to prove to their employer that they are flying the airplane in the way the airline wants following their standard operational procedures (SOPs). Apart from this proof of qualification they are subjected to the same over and over again through the course of their careers.

Capt. Laurie Tailor, in his book "Air Travel. How safe is it?" says thus "Some member states of the ICAO follow that (Annex 13) concept, but in other countries the investigation and the following inquiry were regarded as the starting point for the portioning of blame and subsequent litigation. Procedures that follow can lend themselves to that practice."

" With technical evidence being challenged by persons who are not competent to make assessments as to its value and criminal code legal procedures with the concept of prosecution, defence, hostile witnesses and guilt, taking precedence over finding the cause (s) of the accident and how to prevent a similar accident"

It was just a few years ago we read of a local Magistrate rejecting an official investigation report of a Sri Lankan Air Force helicopter accident. The Accident Investigator provides the chain of events leading to the unfortunate accident. The facts don't change just because a VVIP died in that accident.

This writer has seen many a pilot being given a hard time by lawyers (at inquiries), who are absolutely clueless on technical matters. For instance, questioning in an inquiry to an Air Lanka B 737 accident in Madras (now Chennai) where one landing gear collapsed proceeded thus.

Inquiring Officer (a retired senior Judge): "Capt. ..., When did you know that you were flying to Madras on this flight?"

Captain: "About two weeks before, when I got my Roster"

Inquiring officer: "So Capt. .... , I put it to you that you had two full weeks to check the serviceability of the airplane!!"

The Inquiring Officer did not know that aircraft have to be kept flying to make money for the Airlines. The Pilots change accordingly to maintain the schedule. There is no way that a pilot can keep track of the serviceability of an aircraft till he makes himself available for the flight, when he looks at the relevant technical documents. Yes, some of these inquiries can get rather hilarious as long as you are not the pilot under investigation! When the Captain of the Swissair crash, at Athens declared that at the latter stages of the rollout (after Landing) that he took over the braking, from the First Officer, the Presiding Judge thought that the Captain and the First Officer changed seats while the aircraft was moving! The judge did not know that the brakes are duplicated at each pilot seat.

Another alarming development is the involvement of Law Agencies such as the CID and the FBI in the accident/incident investigations. These parallel investigations sometimes work at cross-purposes. At a law symposium in 1973 concerns were raised because the 'Law' was interfering with the accident inquiry in accordance with Annex 13. The Report states, "As just one case in point, consider the situation of the Head of an aviation safety office who found himself in jail one day because he was interfering with the local Police investigation of a particular aviation accident in his own country!" Where there is death and destruction the police assume that it is their duty to carry out independent investigations. Twenty two years later, in 1995 the local police at Palmerston North, New Zealand impounded the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) and the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) collectively known as the "Black Box" of a De Haviland Dash 8 aircraft that crashed on landing. They obstructed the
accident investigation and attempted to use the Black Box data to prosecute the pilots. This could easily be the story in Sri Lanka. Our Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) follows the CAA (UK) practice.

Capt. Ian Frow of the British Air Line Pilots Association says, "None of this is new. What is new is the increased enthusiasm for Aviation Authorities around the world to apply criminal sanctions to pilots who make mistakes. Our own CAA (UK) is now well down the path. In their case their attitude is encouraged by the Political and Consumer Groups who after Zeebrugge (the cross channel Ferry Boat disaster), Clapham Junction (the Rail crash), various holiday Coach Accidents and some events of
our Industry are demanding 'Safer Transport'. Political neglect and under-funding have created a CAA which often has neither the ability nor the will to pursue tough targets like Airlines and Aircraft Manufacturers who are frequently implicated in accidents nominally put down as 'crew error.' Instead it takes the soft option and goes after the Flight Deck Crew, who as a group would never consciously act in a manner likely to cause an accident. It is not, however, totally unknown for both Manufacturers and Operators, when Commerce rules, to take a "calculated risk" with Safety"

So is having an air accident a crime? It certainly looks like it from the front end of the aircraft! This is exactly why Air Safety experts are worried about "signs of the times". After an accident or incident the Accident Investigator has to rely on the help of the Pilots involved in the accident to reconstruct the chain of events that led to the event. Now if the Pilots are going to be legally liable, they will certainly not give the full story to the Investigator. As someone put it "damned if you do and damned if you don't scenario". It was only a few years ago that a Captain of an US submarine was requesting immunity from prosecution when giving evidence in an accident with a Japanese Trawler. As expected, the request was not granted.

Unfortunately, many in our "Industry" assume that airline flying is inherently safe. The truth is while technology improved the "Human element" remained the same. It is hard to comprehend that intelligent people in high places think that "punishment" is an effective deterrent. The Pilot Associations have already put their defenses up. After an incident or accident, they recommend that their membership make statements like "Before making a report or statement of any kind, I wish to exercise my right to consult with my (Pilot) Association representative and/or attorney" to be made.


The world is not perfect but we could strive for change. Given below is what the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations (IFALPA) is asking the ICAO and the lawmakers of the world to accept.

"Evidence given at the technical investigation should be considered as privileged and not be available for use in any subsequent disciplinary, civil, administrative or criminal proceedings nor for any public distribution."

"Evidence other than the final report should not be made available to any body, which seeks to establish civil, criminal or administrative responsibility or apply disciplinary measures. Nor should any of this information be available for public distribution."

"Records used in the reporting of near accidents or incidents, voluntary or mandatory, anonymous or not in a voluntary or mandatory system, shall not be made available for the purpose other than accident prevention. In no case shall the identity of the persons involved be disclosed to the public."

"Any provisions relating to prosecution for violating of Air Navigation Regulations (ANRs) or Criminal Laws should be covered in legislation that is separate from the aircraft accident investigation legislation and, when foreign pilots are involved, should encompass the principal of "Transfer of Prosecution," where appropriate, to the state in which such pilots were licensed."

Since 1947, our National Carriers Air Ceylon, AirLanka and SriLankan have been extremely fortunate to have not had a "big one" where there was destruction to life and property and the pilots survived. Urgent lobby is needed to get the relevant laws into place, to protect the pilots from criminal action.

So until it is realised by all and sundry that criminal action is not the answer to improving Air Safety, it is a good idea, for the pilots to plead lack of "men's rea" which simply means, "I did not mean to commit a criminal act Your Honor"

The writer is a Crew Resource Management ("Human Factors") facilitator for a far eastern Airline and a Member of the Accident Investigation Panel of the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka.

25 08 2007 - The Island


I Have a Dream


Capt. G. A. Fernando

So the defence forces have discovered a seventh airstrip in Tiger territory. With the existing 11 in this tiny island, that makes a total of 18! Obviously, six of these ‘rogue’ airstrips were so well camouflaged that they escaped detection by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF). Iranamadu was the red herring that attracted all the SLAF’s bombs. But the other airstrips could have been detected - and destroyed - if SLAF aircraft got airborne when the LTTE’s ‘mosquito fleet’ was flying over the south at night, then stayed out of the range of Tiger missiles (above 15,000 ft) while waiting for the rebels’ airplanes to return to their clandestine airstrips. Given the cover of darkness, and unlike their feline namesakes who can see perfectly well at night - the Tamil Tiger pilots would have had to be guided in to a landing by lights or paraffin flares on the ground, thus giving away the locations to the waiting SLAF airplanes above. But that is another story.

Like the late and great Martin Luther King, I have a dream: That in peace time, after these airstrips have been captured and rendered safe (instead of being wantonly destroyed), the military will hold on to them for more useful, peaceful purposes. In the post-LTTE war period, the country will need architects, engineers, doctors, lawyers and a host of other professionals and skilled workers to bring relief to the beleaguered masses of the north and east. These airstrips will cut down valuable travelling time, even enabling officials and helpers to fly to those regions and return the same day.

I have a dream: That in peacetime, in keeping with the spirit of winning hearts and minds, some helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft will be converted into mobile government administrative offices, surgeries, and clinics to bring much-needed relief to the people. Aircraft like the Lockheed C-130 Hercules could easily land on some of these airstrips. ‘...They will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks’ (Isaiah chapter 2: verse 4).

I have a dream: That when peace returns permanently to Sri Lanka, some of those former LTTE airstrips will be developed to accommodate general aviation (GA) - i.e. light aircraft for pleasure flying. It was a mistake on the part of governments, past and present, to have well-regulated pleasure flying banned by the SLAF. Arguably, if not for the ban, the LTTE wouldn’t have had total freedom of the skies over Sri Lanka. Surely, if a strong GA environment was allowed to prevail, any entity that did not
conform to rules and regulations would have stood out like a sore thumb, with any suspicious aerial activity quickly noticed and reported. But the authorities, in their so-called ‘wisdom’, chose to ignore and ground all GA operators, while harassing them with many unrealistic demands. On one occasion, Dr. Ray Wijewardene, Sri Lanka’s grand old man of private aviation, walked out of a Ministry of Defence meeting, saying that by killing General Aviation in Sri Lanka we have lost the capability of destroying these ‘toy’ aeroplanes (meaning the LTTE aircraft).

I have a dream: That very soon, in peacetime, a passenger could buy a ticket say from London to Koggala, Trincomalee, KKS, Ampara, Weerawila - or even Iranamadu! He/she would fly to Katunayake and transfer to a domestic terminal for the final leg of a journey aboard a smaller airplane to one of those outlying airports. Almost without exception, passengers would gladly pay a small premium on their fare to avoid the hassle of travel by road.

I have a dream: That in peacetime, the main SLAF base will move out of Katunayake to a well defended location inland (say Hingurakgoda), now that the LTTE’s aerial threat is apparently no more. Thus, Katunayake could be developed to accommodate a second runway, to allow increased and unfettered movements of passenger airline traffic, with a GA terminal built on the north side.

I have a dream: That in peacetime the SLAF will also withdraw from Ratmalana, the country’s first civil international airport. The authorities could equip it with vital radio aids to Navigation, like an Instrument Landing System (ILS), while leaving the airport to civil flying schools to conduct flying training to world standards. This would, in turn, save valuable foreign exchange, while eliminating the difficulties currently faced by trainee civil pilots in travelling to and from Katukurunda airfield for their flight training.

I have a dream: That in peacetime the dangerous, high concrete wall at the Galle Road end of Ratmalana Airport will be removed and a frangible fence, built to international standards, will be erected instead.

I have a dream: That the ‘Ruhunu Open Skies’ will also include south of Ratmalana Airport and the authorities encourage other aviation activities such as Hot Air Ballooning, Paragliding and Ultra light aircraft operations.

I have a dream: That in peacetime the authorities will certify some of our vast network of reservoirs as floatplane ‘airfields’ to boost tourism.

I have a dream: That in peacetime, the Director General of Civil Aviation will update the Air Navigation Regulations of 1954 and exercise his authority in upholding them to the letter of the law.

I have a dream: That the long range Radar Station at Pidurutalagala (the highest point in the land) that has been unserviceable for over 18 months will be brought back into service for the benefit of both Civil and Military air traffic control. In those days it cost over eight hundred million rupees to install this Radar station.

I have a dream: The private and civil aviation in Sri Lanka will revert to the way it used to be.

18 02 2009 - The Island


General Aviation and National Security


Capt. G A Fernando, Singapore

With reference to The Island editorial of 20th Feb 2010, while agreeing that United States of America has double standards, I give below a security brief by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) of the USA, with respect to Homeland Security. It is enlightening and educational.

. General Aviation (GA) aircraft do not pose a significant terrorist threat to the United States. In fact, there has been no terrorist attack anywhere in the world using a general aviation aircraft.

. The US government has determined that GA is not a significant threat

. Since the September 11 attacks, no segment of aviation has been under more scrutiny than general aviation. After grounding all aviation in September 2001, the federal government then incrementally restored flight operations after careful security review. The White House Office of Homeland Security (predecessor of today’s cabinet-level Homeland Security Department), the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Department of Defense, the National Security Council, the Secret Service, the FBI, the Department of Transportation, the FAA, and other agencies have specifically examined general aviation flight operations in all parts of the nation and have sanctioned continued GA flight under current regulations. In October 2003, then-administrator of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Adm. James M. Loy, told a congressional hearing that in the emotional wake of the attacks, some security officials may have overstated the threat from GA.

. The GA industry has voluntarily taken positive steps to enhance security

. AOPA, in cooperation with the TSA, has implemented Airport Watch, enlisting the help of the more than 550,000 general aviation pilots to watch for and report suspicious activities at the nation’s airports. Modeled after neighbourhood watch programs, AOPA’s Airport Watch includes a national, toll-free hotline (866/GA-SECURE), staffed by the federal government’s National Response Center. The Airport Watch brochure was mailed to some 389,000 AOPA members in December 2002, and TSA sent it to the remainder of the pilot population. A video is also available to pilots’ groups. The video contains dramatizations of some of the situations pilots ought to be on the lookout for.

AOPA and other industry organizations offered a 12-point plan to enhance security in December 2001. The government eventually adopted most of the proposals.. The FAA used the industry recommendations to issue an FAA order to its flight standards district offices to enhance flight school and airport business (FBO) security.

In November 2003, the Aviation Security Advisory Committee (ASAC) accepted a report of General Aviation Airport Security. The report recommended several guidelines for voluntary ‘best practices’ designed to establish non-regulatory standards for general aviation airports. That document was created by industry representatives from the state, pilot, and airport communities in cooperation with the FAA and TSA. The final document has been forwarded to the TSA for dissemination as a advisory document.

AOPA petitioned the FAA in February 2002 to require a government-issued photo ID to be carried with a pilot certificate (license). Congressional committees, key members of Congress, and the TSA endorsed that petition. In October 2002, the FAA made a rule change to require the photo ID to better identify legitimate pilots. Then in July 2003, the Department of Transportation announced it would begin issuing a new, difficult-to-counterfeit airman certificate that includes a hologram on a plastic card. (AOPA has for many years asked for the pilot’s photo to be on the pilot certificate.). The General Aviation Manufacturers Association has worked with the US Treasury Department to develop and implement new guidelines on aircraft financial transactions, intended to flag suspicious transactions (e.g., all-cash transactions, third-party payments, ambiguous customer identity).

. General aviation aircraft are incapable of causing significant damage

. More than 70 percent of the GA fleet are small, single-engine aircraft with six or fewer seats.

The typical GA aircraft (Cessna 172 and similar) weighs less than a Honda Civic and carries even less cargo.

The majority of GA aircraft have less than 1 percent of the mass of a large airliner. (A fully loaded Cessna 172 weighs approximately 2,400 pounds and carries 56 gallons of fuel. A Boeing 767 can weigh more than 400,000 pounds and carry some 25,000 gallons of fuel.)

The suicide crash of a Cessna into a Tampa office building demonstrates the ineffectiveness of a GA aircraft as a terrorist weapon.

. GA aircraft are not a threat to nuclear power facilities

A report by an internationally recognized nuclear security and safety expert concluded that a small aircraft could not cause a release of radiation from a nuclear facility.

. Small airports are secure by their nature

A general aviation airport is a small neighbourhood. Most people on the airport know each other; suspicious activities are noticed. Since September 11, pilots and others at the airport have stepped up their vigilance and report their suspicions to authorities. GA pilots are proactively improving security by participating in AOPA’s Airport Watch program (see below).

General aviation airports have taken voluntary steps to enhance security. An AOPA survey of airports across the nation found that every one had taken action appropriate to the facility, including the implementation of ID checks, improved fencing, stationing of law enforcement personnel on the field, etc.

. Hijackers are not likely to gain access to a GA aircraft

General aviation aircraft are used for personal and business transportation, just like an automobile. Unlike a commercial carrier, the pilot knows the passengers and what they are carrying. Personal knowledge is the most effective security.

. GA aircraft are not easily stolen

An aircraft is a high-value item. Even a simple, 30-year-old aircraft can be worth $40,000 or more. Owners take reasonable precautions to protect that investment. Historically, only about a dozen general aviation aircraft a year are stolen.

The number of GA aircraft stolen is down sharply since the general aviation community has taken steps to enhance security. In 2002, 13 GA aircraft, mostly single-engine piston aircraft, were stolen. Fewer than half that, six aircraft, were stolen in 2003: five light single-engine aircraft and one medium twin-engine aircraft (source: Aviation Crime Prevention Institute, Inc.).

. The US government has acted to deny pilot certificates to possible terrorists

. Revocation of pilot certificates-In January 2003, the FAA issued a rule stating that if the TSA determines that a pilot poses a national security threat, it can direct the FAA to revoke that pilot’s certificate. Congress agreed with AOPA’s concerns that the appeals process in the initial regulation was flawed and passed legislation that allows for a third-party review of a revocation order.

Restrictions for foreign pilots-Since July 2002, federal restrictions on flight training of foreign nationals include a requirement for background checks for individuals seeking to receive a U.S. pilot certificate on the basis of a foreign pilot certificate.

Background checks for certain flight training-A federal requirement mandates that the U.S. Department of Justice conduct a comprehensive background check for all non-U.S. citizens seeking flight training in larger aircraft weighing more than 12,500 pounds (generally turboprops or jets with more than eight seats). Legislation expanding this requirement to include notification to the federal government of all foreign nationals seeking pilot training regardless of aircraft weight is pending.

. The U.S. government has taken additional steps to enhance aviation security

Commercial operators/businesses

. Charter flight security program-The federal government has established security requirements for aircraft charter operations - especially those using larger, heavier aircraft-that are more in line with airline security measures.

Flight school security-In January 2002, the FAA issued a number of recommended actions addressing security for flight schools and those renting aircraft.

Flight school security awareness training-Pending federal legislation includes a requirement that flight school employees be trained to recognize "suspicious circumstances and activities of individuals enrolling or attending" a flight school.

Washington D.C. ADIZ, FRZ, and Department of Defense airspace restrictions-Since September 11, the FAA and homeland security officials have imposed airspace restrictions at various locations throughout the United States when intelligence indicates a heightened security threat. These include the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) and associated Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) around Washington, D.C., and temporary flight restrictions that are put into effect when the President travels outside Washington, D.C. These restricted airspace areas are patrolled and enforced by U.S. Customs and military aircraft.

Stadium overflights-during an event at a stadium, aircraft operations within 3 nautical miles of and less than 3,000 feet above the venue are restricted, unless cleared by TSA or air traffic control.

No flights over nuclear facilities-In February 2003, an existing notice to airmen (notam) advising pilots not to circle or loiter over nuclear facilities was strengthened to reinforce the need for pilots to avoid these facilities altogether.

As can be seen from the above, threats were comprehensively identified and risks were accessed by the Homeland Security Department, the aircraft owners and pilots themselves by a process of self regulation. I believe that was the way to go. In contrast, the Sri Lankan ‘Defence Authorities’ including the Sri Lanka Air Force, increased ‘red tape’ purely to ground General Aviation because of the misconception that the safest aircraft is an aircraft on ground! Although the high security zones have been withdrawn in Jaffna, security restrictions and red tape prevents importation and operation of light aircraft in the island. May I conclude by quoting the last Director General of Civil Aviation who stated many years ago, "When bombs went off on trains they did not stop the trains. When there were bombs in cars, lorries, and buses they did not ban the road vehicles. However, when there were concerns with light aircraft, the authorities decide to ban all General Aviation". Banning of General Aviation was not a good thing and it killed the local aviation industry. Therefore it is useless patting ourselves on our backs. The LTTE operation is another story as GA was already dead when the Zlins flew in. They had freedom of the skies. It is hoped that USA would not repeat what we did to GA as a ‘knee jerk’ reaction after the crash of the aircraft into the IRS office at Austin, Texas. There are mad men in every field of life.

We in Sri Lanka have over twelve airports maintained at tremendous cost all over the country and over a thousand lakes that can be used by amphibious aircraft (capable of operating both on land and in the water). These resources could be used to our advantage, by our tourist industry. In fact we are sitting on a gold mine!

25 02 2010 - The Island



Betrothal in the sky, pilot as the medium


In these times of conflagrations, recessions and natural disasters on earth, our contributor cum pilot Capt. G. A. Fernando brings tidings of joy from an altitude of over 35,000 ft.

"A funny thing happened to me the other day. We were taking off from London-Heathrow that evening, on a direct flight to Singapore. After the takeoff and during the climb-out, we were speaking to London Control over the radio and the lady controller wanted to know whether we could do her a favour. Usually such trivial conversation takes place on a discretionary frequency but it was not to be. When we replied in the affirmative, she told us that her name was Olive and there was a person named Andy (surname was also given) who was a passenger on our flight and requested us to tell him that she was willing to marry him. For the next three minutes pandemonium broke loose over the busy airspace over London. I think almost every pilot on the frequency that night started to congratulate her.

Now it was our turn to break the good news to Andy onboard. The first thing we had to do was to check where Andy was seated in the aircraft. We were told that he was also an air traffic controller. We all came to the conclusion that Olive must have been a supervisor to do something so crazy over the radio.

After perusing the passenger manifest and locating Andy, we told our In Flight Supervisor to get the champagne ready. Then my colleague, the Pilot in Command, made an announcement over the Public Address system: "Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. May I have your attention please? This is a very special message to Andy from his girl friend Olive. Andy, could you please stand up? She says that she is willing to marry you!"

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure you will join us in wishing Andy all the very best."

All the passengers in the Boeing 747 were cheering loudly when I walked down the aisle (in full uniform) with the In Flight Supervisor closely following with the champagne. Andy, who was seated right at the back, was stunned with all the fuss.

Andy was on cloud nine! It certainly made my day.

15 10 2008 - The Island


How to counter ‘Flying Tigers’


So the "Flying Tigers" have done it again. Who's the genius who suggested switching off the lights in sensitive areas when the alarm goes off? Does he not know that they are navigating by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) which is accurate to within three or four metres. So switching off lights will not help. If there is a mosquito menace from a pond close by, using mosquito repellants is not the answer. We must drain the pond! Have we given thought to who the other Zlin 143 operators are? Is there any way of blocking the essential spares for these aircraft? (This is not a very popular aircraft) This may be an effective way of grounding the aeroplanes.

May I humbly suggest a few fixes to this menace? We need 24/7 surveillance of the Wanni. That cannot be achieved by Unarmed Arial Vehicles (UAVs). What is needed is an aircraft like the Hawkeye E -2C which has downward looking Radar that can monitor all air activity from high altitude (out of missile/ Zlin 143 range). It can also monitor communications, direct fighter/ bombers to targets and has a host of "secret" equipment which can provide early warning of air activity and aircraft departing from the rebel airports such as Iranamadu. The Hawkeye carries a crew of seven (two pilots and five operators) who can wreak havoc in the "enemy" territory.

The time is right as I understand Royal Singapore Air Force is retiring their Hawkeye aircraft for more "hightec" aircraft. A brand new Hawkeye costs about fifty million US dollars. A second-hand aircraft could be picked up for much less. Just for comparison an Airbus A340 costs about US dollars hundred million. The United States might even loan us some if requested (purpose built for our operation without all their fancy secret stuff!) Some of the other Hawkeye operators are Israel, Japan and Indonesia. I should think four aircraft would suffice for round the clock operation.

Thought should be given to day and night interception procedures and practice. There is a misconception that it is impossible for a high performance aircraft such as a MIG to intercept a much slower aircraft like the Zlin 143. I remember a Sri Lankan registered Piper Cherokee was flying from Karachi to Bombay about fifteen years ago and was successfully intercepted by an Indian Air Force MIG. It has to be a well coordinated effort with Ground and Airborne Radar.

Every time the "Flying Tigers" approach BIA and the Air Force starts firing into the air it is going to kill our Tourism Industry. Serious thought has to be given to the fact that SLAF fighter/bomber operation has to be shifted to some other undisclosed location immediately, at least till the threat is over.

The above may be easier said than done. Unfortunately it is a "no pain no gain" affair.

If my airspace is violated once, shame on you. If it is violated twice, shame on me!

Capt. G. A. Fernando

28 04 2007 - The Island


Combating LTTE airpower


This has reference to the letter by Mr. Tudor P Welikela of 28th July '07. I think what Wing Commander Tony Derekze was proposing was that "Low Tech operations need Low Tech solutions." I fully agree with Winco Derekze. You don't need a gilded sledge hammer to kill a fly. The wristwatch size Global Positioning Systems have made the Tigers pilots' task easier. The Tigers could pre programme their proposed route days ahead, on ground. Make no mistake about it, the Zlin 143, flown by the Tigers is not a High Tech aircraft and it cannot climb to 25,000ft. To be able to do that both man and machine have to be modified. Man cannot fly for long hours above 10,000ft without Oxygen. A normally aspirated piston engine needs to be supercharged to be able to fly at high altitude. As the aircraft flies higher and higher the density of air reduces resulting in a drop of performance. It will come to a stage where flying machine will reach its "absolute ceiling" and cannot go higher. The rate of climb is zero. This holds good for both aircraft and missiles. It depends on the Density of air, Weight of aircraft, the Wing area and Velocity.

So Mr. W's gliding theory will not work because the Tiger light aircraft can't get to a very high altitude, especially with a bomb load. A good glider cannot be dived vertically on to a building in 9/11 style. The only reason the 9/11 Terrorists were successful was that the Twin Towers in the Isle of Manhattan stood out like "sore thumbs" in the skyline. The trajectory was horizontal.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.

Capt. G A Fernando

01 08 2007 - The Island


Could a model aircraft be used as a weapon of destruction?


Model aircraft flying is a fascinating hobby. It involves designing ones own small aircraft and then flying it either in free flight, control line flight or by Radio Control. Toy flying models are also now available over the counter. Many model clubs have been in existence in our country since the mid fifties and it is the aim of the Sri Lanka Aeronautical Society (SLAeS) to bring everyone under one umbrella.

There have been guidelines and regulations, in place, governing the operation of model aircraft for over fifty years in Sri Lanka and it is our intention to continue to strictly implement them as done in the past by the individual clubs. The Sri Lanka Civil Aviation Authority has gone that extra mile to register all existing aircraft models and issue a Certificate of Registration to every owner of a model aero plane. All members of these clubs are well respected and responsible members of the community.

There is a perception that a model aero plane could be used as a weapon of destruction. So could almost any object. For example a Cricket bat, a Cricket ball, a pen, a three wheeler, a car, a bus, a train, a passenger aircraft……the list goes on. So have we banned cricket? Have we banned persons from carrying pens in public places? Have we banned three wheel vehicles off our roads? The answer is a big no. We continue to commute in cars, buses, trains and planes. On the other hand model aircraft enthusiasts are being subjected to untold hardships by the "powers that be" because no one really understands the issues involved. The aero modelers of Sri Lanka are unable to import spares that are needed due to Customs and Ministry of Defense restrictions. While all modes of transport mentioned above have been involved in death and destruction by carrying explosives, nowhere in the world have we any record of a toy Radio Controlled (RC) aircraft used by a perpetrator to deliberately destroy persons or property except perhaps in Hollywood! The movie industry is certainly the main culprit in the false perception of the potential threats created by the hobby of model aircraft flying.

Sri Lanka seems to be the only country in the world which has been duped into banning such a rewarding and educational hobby. Let me illustrate my point by relating a story of two teenagers who were model aircraft enthusiasts. In the mid sixties they used to meet every Saturday morning at the Independence Square or the Havelock Golf Club grounds with their model planes and have hours and hours of healthy fun, flying them. Twenty years later these two friends ended up working for the National Carrier one as the Chief of Engineering and the other as Operations Manager. Career development of this nature is unthinkable in this day and age due to the existing short sighted policies of the Government. The Sri Lanka Aeronautical Society is committed to educating the decision makers in the art, science and engineering of aero modelling. We are sure that they do not know what a toy aircraft is capable of doing, more so not capable of doing. Make no mistake, a model aircraft is not an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV).

There is a responsible role that the Media must play in this effort. Without sensationalizing events with regards to the discovery of smuggled model planes and spreading the fear psychosis among the public, they should report the facts. The SLAeS is willing to help by conducting seminars and workshops, for aviation correspondents, to help them to be technically accurate when they report.

After all a blatant lie when frequently repeated is interpreted as an absolute truth by all and sundry!

Capt. G. A. Fernando
President SLAeS

16 10 2007 - The Island


An Airline That Went Nowhere


Air Lanka, the national airline of Sri Lanka, it appears, is to be given to foreign hands to manage.

Begun with great fanfare on September 1, 1979 the government of the day wanted a new airline with a new name to erase from the flying public the bad old image of its predecessor, Air Ceylon.

If the management skills of Singapore International Airlines (SIA) were co-opted at the initial stages, eighteen years down the tarmac having to turn to a relatively younger airline - Emirates to manage our flagship is indeed a tragic indictment on the management capabilities of a nation preparing to celebrate 50 years of independence with the new year.

Emirates Airlines, coming from an oil rich country, may have had the financial resources to attract the better air line managers of the world, but there’s no gainsaying that we Sri Lankans managed Air Lanka so poorly as if it was the private property of the president in power - and not as a viable commercial airline competing in the cut-throat competition of global civil aviation.

From its inception Air Lanka and politics were twin-brothers. Public money was pumped into the airline in large volumes and at one time it was the second largest single public investment, second only to the multi-purpose Mahaveli project. And yet, AirLanka accounts were not accountable to Parliament. They had the best of both worlds and privileges no one else in Sri Lanka enjoyed.

It was a state venture when it wanted money, but it was a private company when that money had to be accounted for. Presidents and Parliaments treated Air Lanka as a "sacred cow".

And yet performance was poor. The airline at one stage was not trusted by a president who was its Minister. President Jayewardene kept its chairman and two aircraft on the tarmac while he went to the adjoining airfield and took a military aircraft for a SAARC conference in Bangalore.

Prime Minister Premadasa who once took the liberty of re-routing a scheduled Air Lanka flight to Europe to the continent of Africa without the courtesy of informing fellow passengers, as President appointed his own Board that entered into agreements with airlines like Royal Jordan and purchased Airbuses because the local agents were his friends.

The first public act of President Wijetunga after he took oaths was to sack that Air Lanka Board. The airline became a seductive high-priority attraction for those close to the president, some of whom slept at Board meetings and were there only to take the free tickets for themselves and their families.

Competence was not the sole criterion for appointment of Managers, General Sales Agents. And consolidators were appointed on political patronage. They did everything to knock down someone if he did not suck up and everything possible was done to promote someone if he was of the correct political colour. Results, efficiency were immaterial. In England alone, at least five of them ended playing out Air Lanka, and Air Lanka got played out with their eyes open. Yet, they were accountable to no one but God.

This government did no worse. Now, like everything else, this government is selling off every national asset anyone is willing to buy. Few know the details of the imminent sale of Air Lanka shares to Emirates. These days, the Russian Kremlin is more transparent than our own privatisation programme.

"Transparency" remains a joke that was played on the voters, and the country is not kept informed of the deal in giving Emirates 40 per cent of the ownership and 100 of the management of Air Lanka. We don’t know if its the best deal on the table.

We don’t know what the quid pro quo is, but let us also say this, that we are not against an exercise of this nature in principle, because AirLanka proved, sadly, that we Sri Lankans mix politics with everything and that we still have not realised that the over politicisation of a commercial venture is sure case disaster. Air Lanka 
eventually became an airline that went nowhere.

07 12 1997 - Sunday Times, Editorial


Can SriLankan Go it Alone?


Air Ceylon - Lockheed 1049 Super Constellation

The multi-million dollar question in many people’s minds today is whether SriLankan Airlines should go it alone. It was Lee Kuan Yew who said: "To know where you are going you have to know from where you came." So this might be an opportune time to review the checkered and sad history of the national airline that started with great promise.

Air Ceylon was launched in December 1947 using the reliable workhorse Douglas DC-3 DC-3 aircraft. A group of technically qualified World War II veterans along with handpicked Ceylonese with work experience at home and in India formed the backbone of the new airline. Within a few months of its formation, in August 1948 an agreement was signed with Australian National Airways (ANA) to provide Air Ceylon with technical assistance to operate the larger four-engine, long-range Douglas DC-4 Skymaster on international services. This was seen as a less risky option than buying two relatively advanced and complex Lockheed Constellations aircraft that formed part of Air Ceylon’s original plan. Experienced technical staff in Air Ceylon contended that, rather than rely on the Australians, they could ‘go it alone’ with the DC-4 as it was, effectively, a non-pressurized development of the DC-3 which was within the operating capabilities of the Ceylonese nationals. But the protests of the Air Ceylon pilots and engineers fell on deaf years and, in fact, a ‘diplomatic incident’ nearly ensued. The Australians insisted that they came to teach "your boys" to fly the DC-4s in act of good faith. In reality, however, ANA wanted to get involved with Air Ceylon purely to be able to use Ceylon’s traffic rights between Australia and London so that ANA could compete with Australian flag-carrier Qantas at a time when lucrative post-war migration traffic to Australia was booming. Ceylon had been one of the original signatories to the Chicago Convention and therefore the interest.

In 1949, Air Ceylon’s overseas services, in conjunction with ANA, began to Bombay and Karachi with two DC-4 Skymasters. The international network expanded in January 1950 when London–Sydney flights began, with stops in Rome, Tel Aviv, Karachi, Bombay, Colombo, Singapore, and Jakarta. In May 1951 Air Ceylon became a corporation with the Government of Ceylon owning 51% of the shares while ANA held the remainder. The Australians also helped to start the Ceylon Air Academy, a flying school at Ratmalana, as well as—in addition to regional operations with DC-3s—an internal, ‘feeder’ airline which used two twin-engine, eight seat de Havilland D.H. 89A Dragon Rapide biplanes on services to China Bay (Trincomalee), Mineriya, and Ampara. This was indeed a progressive step, but it also meant that young Ceylonese pilots would take longer to be promoted to the DC-4. In fact, no locals were cleared to fly the DC-4s and the Australian pilots had the international skies to themselves, flying Air Ceylon aircraft while ‘homegrown’ pilots operated only internal and regional services.

Soon, Air Ceylon faced international competition from British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) and Trans World Airlines (TWA), who had also extended their flights through Colombo on more advanced aircraft. BOAC was about to start using the revolutionary de Havilland Comet, the first jet airliner in the world, while TWA had the four-engine Lockheed Constellation. The latter which, like the Comet had a pressurised cabin, had been built at the behest of eccentric millionaire Howard Hughes, then owner of TWA, to compete against Pan American Airways. But Air Ceylon’s DC-4s were no match for these more modern airplanes. Unlike the Comet, Constellation, and the DC-4’s larger, more powerful stablemate the Douglas DC-6, they were non-pressurised and thus forced to fly at lower altitudes and unable to climb above stormy weather. By the summer of 1953 all DC-4 operations had ceased, with ANA finding the partnership with Air Ceylon no longer viable. They were reduced to the status of ‘sleeping partner’ while the Ceylon Air Academy and Air Ceylon operated the internal and regional services, respectively.

This situation continued until February 1, 1956, when Air Ceylon formed another partnership with KLM-Royal Dutch Airlines, who bought ANA’s shares in the Ceylonese carrier. (The next year ANA was subsumed in a merger with Ansett Airways in Australia, to become Ansett-ANA.) Soon Air Ceylon was flying its colours internationally again with a Lockheed 749 Constellation provided by KLM on services to Bombay, Karachi, Bahrain, Cairo, Rome, London, and Amsterdam, as well as to Bangkok and Singapore in the east. Only a small number of Ceylonese captains, first officers, flight engineers and radio officers were trained by KLM on the Constellation. However, the cabin crew was mainly Ceylonese, working in conjunction with one or two KLM cabin attendants on each flight. Ground engineers and other Air Ceylon staff were also trained to KLM standards. Later, after the 749 Constellation was replaced by a larger 1049 Super Constellation, in 1960 KLM provided Air Ceylon with a Lockheed 188 Electra turboprop, although its shares had now been reduced to 24%. At the time KLM was getting ready to upgrade to Douglas DC-8 four engine jetliners on its own long-range services. Unfortunately, there could be no flow-on benefit to Air Ceylon because the runways at Ratmalana and Katunayake were not long enough and strong enough to accommodate these heavy, modern-generation airplanes. Sadly, it seemed, the Ceylonese policy makers had blundered and not kept up with developments in aviation. Thus, from November 1, 1961 all Air Ceylon international fights ceased.

At the time BOAC was the only carrier operating scheduled international flights to Colombo, and that too using Katunayake Airport. The aircraft in use was the Comet 4 (a development of the original Comet, which was grounded after a series of disasters), an uneconomical over-powered aircraft that was built by the British to operate to cities in colonial outposts, past and present, such as Nairobi (Kenya), Johannesburg (South Africa), Colombo, Singapore, and Hong Kong. These aircraft were designed to operate from short runways, unlike the Boeing 707 and DC-8 which needed much longer ones. In contrast to Ceylon, India had extended its runways at the major airports, and Air-India commenced operating the ultra-modern 707s, thus becoming the world’s fist all-jet Airline.

Lacking international services, Air Ceylon’s management had no choice but to go into a ‘pool’ partnership with BOAC to carry out Air Ceylon flights to London. Unlike with ANA and KLM, the Comet 4s were not painted in Air Ceylon colours but had a sticker over the door which read ‘Air Ceylon’. This arrangement continued after BOAC began replacing its Comet 4s with Vickers VC10s in 1965. On BOAC/Air Ceylon flights, the flight deck crews were all-British, while a small number of Ceylonese women served as flight attendants (although the first class cabin was also the sole province of BOAC’s own staff).

Meanwhile Air Ceylon’s domestic and regional services continued to be served by its ‘old faithful’ DC-3 Dakotas. When the Ceylon Air Academy closed down, all its aircraft were taken over by Air Ceylon. With the airline under the Ministry of Communications, government railway warrants, issued to public servants, could be exchanged for air tickets. Effectively, the airline was spending valuable foreign exchange on spare parts and fuel for its airplanes while earning in fares in rupees! The once-proud airline was struggling. In 1964, Air Ceylon acquired a 44-seat Hawker Siddeley (Avro) 748 turboprop, intended as an eventual replacement for the DC-3. But then in 1967, contrary to all logic, to consolidate internal flights the airline purchased a French Nord 262 turboprop, which had no ‘fleet commonality’ with the Avro 748. In 1969, a Hawker Siddeley (D.H.121) Trident 1E jetliner was acquired, and regional services were extended to Singapore and Bangkok, while Bombay, Karachi, and Madras services were upgraded. Unhappily, whenever this single Trident tri-jet was grounded for some mechanical problem or shortage of pilots, all regional operations were disrupted. The Commercial Department of Air Ceylon wanted larger aircraft in the category of the Boeing 707 and DC-8, but the Board of Directors refused.

In 1971 Air Ceylon negotiated a deal with UTA French Airlines for commercial and technical assistance to again enable Air Ceylon to go international. The attraction, on the part of UTA, seems to have been the rights that Ceylon had into Australia, with UTA wishing to compete with flag-carrier Air France on an international level. At the end of the deal Air Ceylon was to have ended up owning one Douglas DC-8 and a yearly guaranteed profit of Rupees 12 million! UTA started training a large number of cabin crew, while promising to train 100 pilots (an ambitious figure) to fly the big jets. On paper at least, it appeared to be the best deal ever for Air Ceylon since 1947.

However, as time passed, the deal hit a few snags. UTA pilot union rules forbade the training of ‘mixed’ (nationality) crews. Therefore, ‘non-union’ instructors had to be assigned to train Sri Lankan pilots on the DC-8. After many years of domestic and regional flying on DC-3, HS (Avro) 748, Nord 262, and Trident aircraft, the majority of senior Sri Lankan pilots who were released for training as captains on the DC-8 could not cope with modern devices such as simulators. They were slow to learn the new techniques required for flying the ‘big jets’ in an international environment. In short it was difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. There were younger, arguably ‘sharper’, and more able Sri Lankan pilots far below on the seniority list, but Air Ceylon management could not find a way of breaking the logjam to activate them. It is this writer’s belief that when UTA attempted to operate into Australia with the Air Ceylon DC-8, they were told that the flight deck crew must be all-Sri Lankan. There was also a limit on the number of passengers as the bilateral agreements were signed for much smaller DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft. Thus, by 1976 the Lankan-French relationship was not very cordial. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the then General Manager of Air Ceylon visited Paris, where he was given the cold shoulder treatment by UTA. This angered him so much that he came back to Colombo and took action to abrogate the deal! With that went the Rupees 12 million guaranteed profit.

Now Air Ceylon had a first-generation, narrow-body, intercontinental big jet but with no flight deck crew. By then most of the world’s airlines were flying wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10, and Lockheed L.1011 TriStar. Before the UTA deal ended, expatriate DC-8 pilots were recruited from all over the world. Looking back now, some of them could really be termed ‘cowboys’. A few were seconded from the Sri Lanka Air Force too. Meanwhile, Air Ceylon went it alone for three years, with redefined international destinations. Charter flights had to be arranged at great cost to transport passengers holding tickets at other discontinued destinations. It was during this period that an all-Sri Lankan crew flew a DC-8 into Colombo, accompanied by much fanfare. This situation continued until 1977 when, with the advent of Mr. J. R. Jayewardene as the national President, it was decided that a new airline would be formed with the help of Singapore Airlines (SIA). Then, on September 7, 1978, one of the two HS 748 aircraft of terminally-ill Air Ceylon was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on the parking apron at Ratmalana Airport, fortunately without loss of life or serious injuries.

Formed under the private company ordinance, the new airline, Air Lanka, was government-owned. Two Boeing 707s were bought from SIA, who provided training for crew and executives. No pilots above the age of 44 were recruited, thus paving the way for younger pilots to achieve the required standards. SIA also benefited from this deal as it was given unlimited rights to operate through Colombo, both west and east-bound. At the time its ‘Classic’ Boeing 747s were incapable of flying nonstop to Europe. The Chairman of Air Lanka was a Sri Lankan airline pilot who had worked for SIA and knew the requirements of a world-class airline. Thus, he spared no expenses to create Air Lanka in that image. SIA also knew what it wanted in terms of an international airline and hired expatriates to achieve it. The majority of Air Lanka’s 707 captains were pilots who had retired from SIA at the age of 60 and flew with Air Lanka for another two years under special provision. This indeed was the secret of success of Singapore Airlines. In contrast, from its inception, when Air Ceylon got into partnerships with foreign carriers, it danced to the tune of the latter.

Can SriLankan go it alone?      Part II

In 1971 Air Ceylon negotiated a deal with UTA French Airlines for commercial and technical assistance to again enable Air Ceylon to go international. The attraction, on the part of UTA, seems to have been the rights that Ceylon had into Australia, with UTA wishing to compete with flag-carrier Air France on an international level. At the end of the deal Air Ceylon was to have ended up owning one Douglas DC-8 and a yearly guaranteed profit of Rupees 12 million! UTA started training a large number of cabin crew, while promising to train 100 pilots (an ambitious figure) to fly the big jets. On paper at least, it appeared to be the best deal ever for Air Ceylon since 1947.

However, as time passed, the deal hit a few snags. UTA pilot union rules forbade the training of ‘mixed’ (nationality) crews. Therefore, ‘non-union’ instructors had to be assigned to train Sri Lankan pilots on the DC-8. After many years of domestic and regional flying on DC-3, HS (Avro) 748, Nord 262, and Trident aircraft, the majority of senior Sri Lankan pilots who were released for training as captains on the DC-8 could not cope with modern devices such as simulators. They were slow to learn the new techniques required for flying the ‘big jets’ in an international environment. In short it was difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. There were younger, arguably ‘sharper’, and more able Sri Lankan pilots far below on the seniority list, but Air Ceylon management could not find a way of breaking the logjam to activate them. It is this writer’s belief that when UTA attempted to operate into Australia with the Air Ceylon DC-8, they were told that the flight deck crew must be all-Sri Lankan. There was also a limit on the number of passengers as the bilateral agreements were signed for much smaller DC-3 and DC-4 aircraft. Thus, by 1976 the Lankan-French relationship was not very cordial. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when the then General Manager of Air Ceylon visited Paris, where he was given the cold shoulder treatment by UTA. This angered him so much that he came back to Colombo and took action to abrogate the deal! With that went the Rupees 12 million guaranteed profit.

Now Air Ceylon had a first-generation, narrow-body, intercontinental big jet but with no flight deck crew. By then most of the world’s airlines were flying wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 747, Douglas DC-10, and Lockheed L.1011 TriStar. Before the UTA deal ended, expatriate DC-8 pilots were recruited from all over the world. Looking back now, some of them could really be termed ‘cowboys’. A few were seconded from the Sri Lanka Air Force too. Meanwhile, Air Ceylon went it alone for three years, with redefined international destinations. Charter flights had to be arranged at great cost to transport passengers holding tickets at other discontinued destinations. It was during this period that an all-Sri Lankan crew flew a DC-8 into Colombo, accompanied by much fanfare. This situation continued until 1977 when, with the advent of Mr. J. R. Jayewardene as the national President, it was decided that a new airline would be formed with the help of Singapore Airlines (SIA). Then, on September 7, 1978, one of the two HS 748 aircraft of terminally-ill Air Ceylon was destroyed by a terrorist bomb on the parking apron at Ratmalana Airport, fortunately without loss of life or serious injuries.

Formed under the private company ordinance, the new airline, Air Lanka, was government-owned. Two Boeing 707s were bought from SIA, who provided training for crew and executives. No pilots above the age of 44 were recruited, thus paving the way for younger pilots to achieve the required standards. SIA also benefited from this deal as it was given unlimited rights to operate through Colombo, both west and east-bound. At the time its ‘Classic’ Boeing 747s were incapable of flying nonstop to Europe. The Chairman of Air Lanka was a Sri Lankan airline pilot who had worked for SIA and knew the requirements of a world-class airline. Thus, he spared no expenses to create Air Lanka in that image. SIA also knew what it wanted in terms of an international airline and hired expatriates to achieve it. The majority of Air Lanka’s 707 captains were pilots who had retired from SIA at the age of 60 and flew with Air Lanka for another two years under special provision. This indeed was the secret of success of Singapore Airlines. In contrast, from its inception, when Air Ceylon got into partnerships with foreign carriers, it danced to the tune of the latter.

As Air Lanka moved from strength to strength, with a growing regional and international network, it acquired its first Lockheed TriStar aircraft in 1981. The airline even made a modest operational profit. Regional flights were carried out by a semi-wet-leased Boeing 737, and Indian passengers didn’t have go all the way to Singapore to buy luxury goods anymore. It was cheaper to come to Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan open economy was booming until the country’s security situation deteriorated, which some observers attribute to the covert operations of India. Unfortunately, this difficult period coincided with Air Lanka acquiring two Boeing 747s from Australian flag-carrier Qantas Tourist numbers dropped, and the national carrier was saddled with far too many empty seats.

In May 1986 an Air Lanka TriStar was blown up on the parking apron at the Katunayake International Airport, with the loss of 14 lives. Compounding this setback, it was perceived by some that the powerful Chairman of Air Lanka was insulated from reality by too many ‘yes men’ around him, and the Air Line Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka also became disenchanted with him as direct access to him was lost. Agitation by the pilots forced a change to the original Board of Directors, which was replaced by a board of hardheaded businessmen led by a civil servant who was a former Director of Civil Aviation. When Air Lanka decided to return the two 747s to Qantas, things started to look promising again. With the advent of national President Ranasinghe Premadasa, appointments to the Board of Directors were made as political payoffs—just like in the old Air Ceylon days. Despite all of that Air Lanka successfully introduced two Airbus A320s and three Airbus A340s to its fleet. Indeed, AirLanka was the first airline to fly the A340 in Southeast Asia. Although the airline was making an operational profit, debt-servicing resulting from commercial borrowings were crippling.

In the mid-Nineties, Air Lanka could not generate adequate capital to buy new aircraft for planned expansion, while servicing commercial loans they had obtained before. Thus, the airline was again forced to look for a ‘strategic partner’. Although expressions of interest were called for from world airlines, it was known by almost every one in the business that the government of Sri Lanka had pre-selected Emirates Airlines as a likely partner. That was confirmed when Emirates delayed a flight in Dubai for the then President of Sri Lanka to have talks with the Sheik of Dubai on her way to London. Emirates was a direct competitor on Air Lanka’s routes. What interest could it have other than downsizing Air Lanka to be a feeder airline from India, Maldives, and Sri Lanka to Dubai? It was also given a management contract to run the Airline for ten years. Air Lanka has been thrown to the wolves. There was a great hue and cry from the parliamentary Opposition, the media, and the public, with a debate on the issue held in Parliament. Dogs barked but the caravan moved on. Suddenly, even the media went quiet. Looking at the whole deal, one is reminded of what Howard Hughes said: "Each man has his price. The question is to find out what that price is."

Soon after the deal was struck in 1998, in order to run a mean and lean operation for itself from Dubai, Emirates dumped their excess Airbus A330 aircraft on Air Lanka. The Airbus A330, although similar to the A340, had two Rolls-Royce Trent engines instead of the four CFM56 engines on the A340. It was reported Emirates Airlines were the agent for the Trent engine and based on commissions alone, Emirates was able to cover the initial down payment for 28 percent of the shares! To justify the use of A330s, the Dubai-based carrier they had to inaugurate new routes. Matters came to a head in 2001 when SriLankan Airlines’ commercial department told the airline’s management that because of over-capacity it was imperative that uneconomical routes be stopped by August that year. The future of excess A330s was a problem, but this difficulty was solved for the airline on July 24, 2001, when LTTE terrorists attacked Bandaranaike International Airport. After an initial assault, with much destruction of military aircraft, on the SLAF side of the airport, two SriLankan Airlines A330s and one A340 were destroyed, along with one smaller A320 (reportedly damaged by ‘friendly fire’). Another A330 and A320 also damaged in the pre-dawn raid were later repaired and returned to service. The next day’s headlines in the Herald Tribune ran: ‘The terrorists have reduced the airline to a more manageable size’. By a quirk of fate, the contentious number of A330 aircraft was reduced to the desired figure.

The change of name and logo from Air Lanka to SriLankan Airlines in 1999 was another farce. Money spent on artwork, crockery, cutlery and letterheads would have run into millions. Emirates management employed unqualified ‘friends of the family’ for jobs that could have been easily done by Sri Lankans. More recently, two floatplanes were bought, but no real effort was made to popularize and expand the operations within SriLanka. The national carrier gained the world but lost its soul. SriLankan Airlines reservations are handled from Dubai. In the near future when the management contract between the two airlines is dissolved, Emirates are bound to charge an arm and a leg for services rendered. This is exactly what Frank Lorenzo of Continental Airlines did to Eastern Airlines of USA when he charged exorbitant rates from the latter for services rendered. Eastern Airlines went ‘belly up’ because it (Eastern) could not afford to pay, as did not have any government funding.

Do we really need a national airline? In 1947 it was Air Ceylon that flew to London and Australia at the country’s behest. In 1971 it was the Air Ceylon Trident that went to Cairo to bring arms and ammunition to the Forces, during the abortive JVP insurgency. There were unconfirmed reports that the DC-3 aircraft were even used to "tanker" high-octane fuel to the Air Force aircraft in China Bay when stocks could not be transported by road during that time. In the Gulf War One, it was Air Lanka who evacuated Sri Lankans from the Middle East at the behest of the Government. When a push came to a shove the National Carrier was always there. There is no doubt a national airline is necessary, but at what cost? Are we looking for another partner to tango with or are we going to bite the bullet and go it alone? If we are looking for a partner should it be from a different area of operation with no clash of interests? We are living in difficult times. With all this instability, many SriLankan pilots and engineers are poised to or have moved out to better jobs including to Emirates Airlines. Although it is the market forces that seem to govern here, high salaries alone won’t stem the tide. It is imperative that SriLankan Airlines restores some credibility, learn from their past mistakes and move forward. Skeptics might say that there is a fat chance of that happening and that pigs might aviate before that happens! Others live in hope.


26 03 2008 - The Island



Double Anniversary in Aviation and Transportation


Lloyd Rajaratnam Devarajah


February 28, 2010 marks two epoch-making events in Sri Lanka’s history in the fields of overseas transportation and aviation.
On this day, 72 years ago (February 28, 1938), the formal opening of the Ratmalana Airport for civil aviation and the official inauguration of the first direct regular airmail service under the British Empire Air Mail Scheme (AMS) from Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then called), was performed by the then Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott.

It should be noted that aviation was something yet new, as a means of overseas transportation. The first successful flight in heavier-than-air mechanically propelled airplane by Orville Wright, took place 35 years earlier on December 17, 1903. His plane rose (from the base of Kill Devil Hill, 4-miles South of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, U.S.A) 120 feet in 12 seconds. The fourth experimental flight that same day by Orville’s elder brother Wilbur, rose 852 feet into the air for 59 seconds and the plane was patented on May 22, 1906.

Major (later Sir) John L. Kotelawala the then Communications and Works Minister, who played a dynamic role in modernising transportation and communication, then called upon Governor Caldecott to declare open the new Ratmalana Airport. After the opening ceremony, Governor Caldecott handed over “three official mail bags containing messages to the Secretary of State for the Colonies and the Governors of Bombay and Madras, to Capt of the American Waco 4-Seater cabin plane of Messrs Tata Sons Ltd., of Bombay, India.

“The plane which was provided with tricycle landing gear was piloted by Tatas’ Chief Operational Manager Capt. B. N. Figgins,” according to the Posts and Telecommunications Administration Report of 1937-38 by J.R. Walters, the Postmaster General and Director of Telecommunications.

Ratmalana Airport building. ANCL File Photo

As the plane took off that historic day at 9 a.m sharp, two white pigeons signifying the earlier carriers of the post (the Pigeon Post), were released by a member of the then flourishing Aero Club of Ceylon.

After the inauguration ceremony, several “Tiger Moth” planes of this pioneer Aero Club staged a fly-past, to the delight of the large and distinguished gathering present, at which Governor Caldecott took the salute.

The State acquired 240 acres of coconut plantations, four years before this opening, for the construction of a 600-yards long airstrip. It should be again noted that the first plane landed on this new air strip on November 27, 1935, long before the official opening in 1938 and the first direct airmail was despatched, 14 months before the inauguration of the EAM scheme.

The first direct airmail was despatched from Ceylon on Christmas Eve (December 24) 1936-the same day the first direct mail came from Europe, all the way by air. This was possible when Messrs Tatas made a goodwill flight to Colombo, bringing the Christmas mail from Britain and other Western Countries, for the first time-the time taken being seven days.

The United States of America Internal Air Service was the first regular air mail service, made use of by the Ceylon Postal authorities for the transportation of mail posted in the Island. This was in September 1928 and two months later, in November, an airmail service for the conveyance of mail was used by Ceylon-between Marseilles in France and Britain.

The first Airmail left Colombo on Sunday, June 23, 1929 for despatch by air from Karachi (then part of British India) to Britain, Egypt, Palestine and Iraq, the service taking 14 1/2 days-a gain of only 1 1/2 days-as compared with 16 days taken, if sent all the way by sea.

Airmail letters were accepted in Ceylon for onward transmission to some selected countries in Europe in October 1929 and to Iran and other Persian Gulf countries, the following year. In 1931, mail was accepted for despatch by air to East Africa.

Until the inauguration of the EAM scheme, all mail for conveyance by the various air services had been despatched by train from Colombo via Talaimannar Pier to Karachi, the journey taking six days, before they were sent by air, from there.

When the Indian Government opened an Air Service between Madras and Karachi in 1932, the local postal authorities began sending the mail for air transportation, first by train to Madras via Talaimannar Pier which was only two days by rail before being transferred onto a plane.

Since 1929, the air services through out the world began to develop and by the end of 1937, Ceylon had extended its airmail services to almost all important countries in the world. Direct contact was subsequently established with almost all countries whilst to countries off the main trunk route by air, mail was transported by surface route to or from the nearest air terminal.

With the inauguration of the British EAM scheme, - 72 years ago, a regular service by air between Colombo and Karachi was available-both for the transportation of passengers and the carriage of mail. This service also linked up the island with India and the great Southampton-Marseilles-Baghdad-Karachi-Delhi-Calcutta-Rangoon-Bangkok-Penang-Singapore-Australia air route which girdled almost two-thirds of the earth’s surface.

The EAM scheme was inaugurated with the mail despatched by Imperial Airways on the East-bound service, from Britain on February 23, 1938 and in the West-bound direction, by the despatch from Ceylon on February 28, 1938. A “feeder” service provided by Tatas which was under the joint controls of the Ceylon and the Indian Governments, formed the link between Colombo and Karachi. This service established connection at the Karachi airport with the Imperial Airways service.

Owing to the Colombo-Karachi feeder service, it became necessary to increase the postage rate to British Empire countries participating in the “All-Up” service (by air all the way), from 9 cents per ounce to 20 cents per 1/2 ounce for letters and from 6 cents to ten cents for postcards. Walters, the Postmaster-General in the Administration Report states “the rate appears to be the highest rate in force in any Empire country served by the Scheme. All first class mails (ie) articles paid for at the letter rate and postcards to these countries, are despatched by air.”

Australia and certain other countries in the East and Far East did not joint the EAM scheme at first. Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Western Pacific islands joined the Scheme by the latter part of July 1938. HongKong joined the Scheme in September of that year. As the air service became very popular, the frequency of the despatch of airmail from Colombo was increased while the charges were substantially reduced.

The EAM service was suspended following the commencement of World War II on September 3, 1939. Only letters and postcards on which airmail “Surcharge” of Rs 1/= per 1/2 ounce had been paid, were despatched by air. Two days after the commencement of the war, all countries in the EAM Scheme reverted to the old system of “surcharge airmail” service-the sea route being reintroduced as the normal means of despatch of mail.

Imperial Airways placed all their aircraft and equipment at the disposal of the British Secretary of State for Air, at the outbreak of World War II. The British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC)-now called British Airways (BA)-established in November 1939, took over Imperial Airways on April 1, 1940.

Ratmalana was selected as the site for the Island’s first International Airport because of its easy accessibility. If originated in the Government’s need for a large airstrip near the capital for use of airplanes. Until the early 1960s, Ratmalana was the primary airport for overseas-bound Commercial aircraft flights.

It was selected also because of its easy access to the capital by a broad thoroughfare, close to a railway station and the big hotels. Ratmalana was also ideally situated in that “the approaches to the runways were free from obstructions such as powerlines, smokestacks, tall buildings and radio towers. Wind direction which is a vital factor in the selection of an airport site and layout of the runways since aircraft take off and land into the wind-also made the Ratmalana Airport ideally suited,” report stated.

At the height of World War II in the early 1940s, Allied military came to the island and established airstrips at Katunayake, Vavuniya, China Bay near Trincomalee, Palaly near Kankesanturai in the North. A sea-plane base was also established in Koggala in the South, for the operation of military aircraft.

The present International Airport-with a modern Terminal building at Katunayake, was established in 1968, with the generosity of the Canadian Government.

Ratmalana had to be virtually abandoned-with the giant strides made in the field of aviation-as the immediate vicinity was getting thickly populated and congested, with hardly any room for expansion and development of the airport.

Today, nearly 20 International Airlines operate in and of Katunayake Airport whilst Ratmalana has been virtually relegated into a military airport with restricted civilian domestic flights, operated by local carriers.



SriLankan Airlines Turns 33


The National carrier of Sri Lanka, SriLankan Airlines celebrates its 33rd anniversary this month. This milestone would be marked with religious ceremonies for the staff, commencing from the first week of September.

The life journey of the airline has been fascinating, checked with victories and surviving turmoil during the country's three decade long civil war, which claimed half of its fleet during the airport attack in 2001, the global recession and stifling competition in what is a mature, yet dynamic industry.

SriLankan took flight on September 1, 1979 as Air Lanka, its former name, with a humble fleet of two leased Boeing 707-300B jetliners. Air Lanka's preliminary route network spanned destinations such as, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bahrain, Dubai, Male, Mumbai and Chennai. In 1994, Air Lanka celebrated its 15th anniversary by being the first carrier in Asia to introduce Airbus A340 aircraft to its fleet. Three brand new A340s would soon have direct nonstop long-haul services previously not possible to several of its destinations. Four years later, a ten year deal forged with Dubai-based Emirates would have Air Lanka soaring to new heights, under its new moniker SriLankan Airlines.

Today, SriLankan's fleet has expanded to 21 Airbus A320, A330 and A340 aircraft, delivered this year and its network extends to 58 destinations in 33 countries in Europe; North America; Canada; Australia; Far East; Middle East and the Indian Sub-Continent.

The airline has cemented a firm reputation worldwide for its service, comfort, safety and reliability, notching many enviable industry awards along the way. These awards include the, World's Friendliest Cabin Staff by Skytrax; Best Airline in South Asia from Travel Trade Gazette; World's Most Reliable Operator of Airbus A330s and A340s by Airbus Industries and the Etihad Global Excellence Award for Best Regional Caterer. In 2011, the airline carried over three million passengers, while the numbers indicate a growth for 2012, which is in line with the thriving tourism industry. The first half of this year saw a 27 percent growth in the number of passengers that travelled on SriLankan, over last year's first half.

The airline is also in a phase of undertaking massive product enhancements ,starting with its fleet, with the acquisition of brand new A320s and the refurbishment of existing A330 and A340 aircraft, incorporating plush leather interior, flat bed seats on Business Class and state-of-the-art IMS Rave entertainment systems.

In line with modern trends in global air travel, SriLankan now offers its Business Class passengers, a quick check-in facility with the 'Silk Route' service at the Bandaranaike International Airport.

SriLankan is also looking at advancing in other areas of aviation technology. In the last month, the airline became the first in Asia to replace bulky paper manuals used by pilots in the cockpit, with iPad Electronic Flight Bags (EFB).

The year brought on acclaim to the training arm of SriLankan, the International Aviation Academy (IAA), when it was recognised by the International Air Travel Association (IATA), as one of its "Top Ten" Authorized Training Centres in South Asia. In August 2012, IAA opened its first overseas branch in the Maldives.

In April 2012, SriLankan Engineering fortified its reputation as a reliable service provider in aircraft maintenance in the region, when it completed the 50th "C" Check for IndiGo" India's largest low-fare carrier.

SriLankan Catering (SLC), a fully owned subsidiary of the airline, also expanded its services in the past 12 months. Semondu, its fine-dining restaurant, was opened in the historic Dutch Complex in December 2011.

In addition to these developments, the external environment looks promising for SriLankan, with the booming Indian and Far Eastern leisure traveller markets and Sri Lanka's unique positioning in the world map as a hub in Asia, the airline will have some great opportunities to expend in the near future.


Lanka'a national interest in Sri Lankan Airlines
Development of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA)
Our Skies are safe
Airline pilots, doctors and lawyers - Airline pilots and surgeons work in high-risk environments.
Disaster, here we come! - On July 24 an Iranian ‘Aria tours’ Illushin IL- 62
Is an accident a crime ? - An airplane pilot’s view
I have a dream - So the defence forces have discovered a seventh airstrip
General aviation and national security - With reference to your editorial...
Betrothal in the sky, pilot as the medium
How to counter ‘Flying Tigers’
Combating LTTE airpower
Could a model aircraft be used as a weapon of destruction?
An Airline that went nowhere - Begun with great fanfare on September 1, 1979...

Can SriLankan go it alone? - The million dollar question in many people’s minds...

Double anniversary in aviation and transportation - February 28, 2010 marks
SriLankan Airlines turns 33



The life of the modern jet pilots tends to be most unexpectedly lonely. . . . foreign countries are places to
reach accurately and to leave on time. Distance is a raw material to work with.

- John Pearson -









©alkva 2011