27 May, 2022


Independent Inquiry At SriLankan Airlines Goes Awry

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Shortly after the recent fiasco of a captain at SriLankan Airlines being found under the influence of alcohol at the time of reporting to operate a flight out of Frankfurt, the airline introduced random ‘breathalyzer tests’ for flight crew. Shortly after its introduction, a senior captain was requested to undergo such a test when he reported for duty at the Colombo Airport. The request was supposedly made by three security staff without the presence of a qualified medical staff. In the ensuing discussion, the captain had questioned the basis for being singled out for a random breathalyzer test and the competence of the three security staff to carry out such an exercise. However, the captain contends, at no point in time did he decline to be subjected to a test. He was eventually permitted to operate the flight without undergoing the test. During the overnight stay overseas, the captain had been instructed not to operate the return fight and a substitute captain had taken his place. Upon his return, he had been suspended from work without pay. According to international regulations, refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test is an offence similar to that of being found under the influence of alcohol prior to operating a flight.

The show cause letter dated September 11, 2016 received by the captain involved, hereafter referred to as ‘accused’, contains eleven charges. The dates set for the inquiry, to be held at the Financial Control Room in Katunayake was October 4, 10 and 12 October 2016. The proceedings were to be presided by an ‘Independent Inquiry Officer’, appointed by the airline.

On October 04, at the outset, the accused had been informed, proceedings would be conducted in Sinhala. The accused had informed, the airline’s working language being English and past internal inquiries involving flight crew having been held in English, the proposed deviation was unacceptable. The Inquiring Officer had relented, after stating the statements of the three security personnel involved in the breathalyzer test incident was in Sinhala.

Once the Inquiring Officer commenced proceedings, the accused, who conducted his own defence had raised an objection. During such internal inquiries, it is customary for Inquiring Officers to ascertain from both the prosecution and defence, of the presence of any objectionable person or persons at the venue. The Inquiring Officer had professed not to be aware of any such practice.

The accused had then reminded him of a previous domestic inquiry when the same person had been Inquiring Officer and the accused had been the Defending Officer when proceedings had commenced after ascertaining of the presence of any person/s objectionable to the prosecution and defence.

The accused had then registered his objections to the presence of the Inquiring Officer who, during a previous inquiry had supposedly attempted to tamper with a defence witness to which the accused, in his role as Defending Officer, had vehemently objected.

The inquiry had then been suspended and objections raised by the accused referred to the management.
As this saga unfolds, two aspects would appear obvious. Firstly, it would appear to be an attempt to victimize a staff member who is a senior captain and a known critic of the management. Secondly, the airline seems to be totally at sea and unprepared to handle such a disciplinary inquiry.

The company’s working language is English. All manuals related to flight operations are in English. All employees involved in the investigation from Security, Flight Operations and HR departments require proficiency in English language to hold their respective positions. The statement obtained by the airline from the accused upon his return to Colombo as well as the suspension and show cause letters issued by the airline are in English. Therefore, the attempt to hold the inquiry in Sinhala language may be construed as an attempt at intimidating the accused. Further, both in public and private sectors, an employee is generally placed under interdiction or suspended from duties without pay in instances the purported misdemeanor involves a financial irregularity or has resulted in a financial loss to the organization. However, in this instance, the accused has been placed on ‘no pay’ for a purported misdemeanor not involving financial misappropriation or loss to the company.

A letter of suspension dated August 30, 2016 titled ‘Letter of Suspension from Work / Refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test, UL402 CMB/BKK 28 August 2016’ has been issued to the accused. Flying Staff Instructions (FSI) No 255 dated 25 August 2016 clause 4 stipulates; ‘Refusal by an employee to undergo the testing process is considered a breach of the Alcohol and Psychoactive Substance Testing Policy and will be treated as a positive test result. Disciplinary action would be taken according to the company disciplinary procedure/CAASL Regulations’. Since the suspension letter dated August 28 refers to ‘Refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test’, the company is in breach of its own circular FSI No 255 clause 4 by permitting the accused to operate UL402 on 28 August. However, none of the eleven charges listed in the Show Cause letter dated September 11, 2016 refers to a ‘refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test’. The reason for the suspension would appear to have changed between August 28 and September 11.

SriLankan Airlines was awarded a national award for Best HRM Practices a few years ago. The decision by the Human Resources Dept. responsible for all disciplinary matters to appoint an individual with a record of an altercation with the accused during a previous inquiry is a reflection of total disregard for procedures, ethics and best practices. Had the HR dept. representative present at the inquiry not reported the incident to management, it is a serious omission. Inquiring Officers found attempting to tamper with witnesses are essentially blacklisted. The previous altercation between the Inquiring Officer and accused essentially disqualifies the Independent Inquiring Officer from playing any role in this inquiry.

Despite all the grandiose statements on accountability and transparency by current top management, there seem to be little difference in the modus operandi at SriLankan Airlines, prior to and after 09 January 2015.

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Latest comments

  • 7

    Rajiva don’t you know that Sri Lanka produced King Kekilla who was famous for his stupid judgments?This is one such judgement…..after all we are still Sri Lankans and our airline is Srilankan. So there is nothing to be surprised by a man having an axe to grind against the accused been appointed as the Inquiring Officer.

    Then see we have a man who produces an excellent cup of coffee and maker of sexy lingerie as Chairman of the airline and a man who has sat all his working life in that cramped little cockpit as the CEO.Then we had man with no O/Ls and with the experience of pruning tea bushes as the previous Chairman.Yes we have a record that Singapore Airline, Emirates, Eithihad and Qatar Airlines will never ever match!!!Just rest your pen my dear fellow.Enjoy your retirement .

  • 4

    As I read, Sri lankan air lines need complete overhaul. Because, it is highly politicised.

    I hard the present chairman is a Coffee – Taster in comparision to the former Tea estate plantation – suprintendeant who was an old Womanizer related to the royal family.

    Present CEO is a pilot but what does he know knows about comapny management. does he have a MBA and accounting knowledge, business management experience. Employees are highly indisciplined and they use trade union activity to bypass every one of their unprofessional acts which are reported very often. the most recent one is mile high club sexual escapade, I suppose.

    Because, of corrupt and dumb politicians sri lankan can not have state enterprises.

    The best thing is to sell it to a locally owned company and leave some shares or stake for foreign owners because company need money. Otherwise, sell shares to locals.

  • 2

    Head Honchos who run Srilankan now, made a cool commission to the value of USD 113 Million , according to the Media in Champachayas Megapolis.

    This was by re jigging the leases to swap Airbus A350 WXD for A 320 Neo.

    But the way Yahapalana treasurer Galleon Ravi tried to explain the swap ( cover up the commission)t to the Colombo Elite , through their Media is hilarious.

    Any one with a bit of grey matter who travel in Airplanes know fuel is the main cost running an Airline.

    A350 is 25 % more fuel efficient. That is why it can fly up to 17,000 Km in comparison to a A330. with the same fuel load.

    Here is what Galleon said,

    “Why do you need an Aircraft to fly 17 k when UK is only 12 k from Colombo.”

    But the juicest bit was Galleon reckons it will crash into the Atlantic Ocean if it tries to fly to New York.

    Say no more..

  • 0

    trust the writer always flies Sri Lankan, while making these points, put your face where your mouth is,risk your life , put it on the line, then preach

  • 5

    Sell the damn thing please.

    We have had enough and successive politicians have screwed it beyond resurrection.

  • 1

    Rajeewa: You say: “None of the eleven charges refer to the refusal to undergo a breathalyzer test”. Are you sure? Then what was this incident known to us through the media? The known facts were that the Security staff wanted the pilot to undergo a breathalyzer test and he refused; but allowed to operate the flight. Then what are those 11 charges? Those Security personnel would have given written statements relating to the “Refusal” that are now being produced at the disciplinary inquiry. If those statements were in Sinhala language the accused has a right to ask for authentic translations in English. Also he has a right to initially protest against the standings of the Inquiry Officer and record his objections. To me, judging from the reason he gave( viz. that Security personnel statements were in Sinhala) for overruling the accused objection to the inquiry being conducted in Sinhala looks to say the least STUPID. Then on the other hand, appointing a person who had a history of an encounter with the accused in an earlier inquiry is the least that could be expected of an “Award Winning” Human Resource Division and that itself bring to question the integrity of that very organization that awarded the “Trophy”.

    Rajeewa: As regards that “Breathalyzer Test”, please note, if that is a universally accepted equipment, there is no need to have medical personnel present at the time of testing. That recording is authentic and the reading is shown to the person tested and documented. This practice is used world wide by the Law Enforcement officers, such as Police personnel even on the road side. But I do not know whether there was any requirement “in the presence of a Medical Staff” agreed upon by the Management of SriLankan. If that is so, then the accused has a very strong case to record his objection.

    Anyway, going by what you have stated, the present Management is proving to be very weak and utterly incompetent to the extent that it does not know even to handle a Disciplinary Inquiry, leave alone the heavier stuff of “Managing” an International Airline that is a “Debt Draped” Monster to the people of Sri Lanka. This also shows that “All the Clowns”, from the top to down are still holding on.

  • 0


    Yes, I am sure. The charge sheet does not refer to ‘refusing to undergo a random breathalyzer test’. It refers to issues relating to threatening, intimidating, obstructing, abusing company employees and preventing them from carrying out their assigned duties.

    Contents of statements given by the security staff in Sinhala language will have to await the formal inquiry, whenever that may be. The Inquiring Officer did not overrule objection of accused as understood by you but agreed to hold the inquiry in English language.

    Civil Aviation Authorities in countries design their own regulations governing pilots in their countries using ICAO manual on “Prevention of Problematic use of substances in the aviation workplace“ document no 9654. It covers a wide range of issues including alcohol and drugs. Persons qualified to carry out breathalyzer tests are Doctors and Trained Police Officers and not security staff. Since the airline does not have active Police personnel, at least one medial staff should have been present. The airline has now (since this incident) appointed a panel of one doctor and two nurses to carry out random breathalyzer tests.

    To be fair by the current management, the airline has had a history of poor handling of disciplinary cases from 1986.

  • 1

    Pls wind this entity for good.

  • 0

    Why do u want to make unnecessary argument and disturbs to disciplinary makers.You have to obey these rules if not what about our (passengers) safety of lives.Douglas has given proper instructions for U

  • 0

    In this Airline everyone must have their say. At the very beginning of Air Lanka was the Dictator/Chairman, Rakkhitha Wickramanayake.
    Then it went to the other extreme with the advent of CBK as President and unionization of all staff categories.
    It is absolutely right to make this a regional Airline. If that does not work just close the thing and stop taxing the rest of the people of the country. (Except for the State sector employees)

  • 1

    Rajeewa: Thank you. If the Civil Aviation has decided what and how to subject the pilots and other operatives to a Breathalyzer Test after this incident, that is fine. In the absence of such a procedure then existing, this pilot would have protested and I do think that must be the reason to drop that charge. In any case, in the appointment of the “Inquiry Officer” the Management should have looked into it in a very causes manner to avoid any ambiguities. Even in courts, the questions relating to Judges who hear the cases do get challenged for propriety in hearing cases. That is why, it becomes the responsibility of such appointing authority to be very judicious and avoid such obstacles. Anyway, let us see how this story unfolds.

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