In a blatant abuse of authority, brother of First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and Chairman of the country’s national carrier SriLankan Nishantha Wickremasinghe diverted a commercial UL flight to Singapore to have himself, his wife and a guest picked up from Singapore’s Changi Airport recently, several Sunday newspapers have reported. Telephoning the airline, Wickremasinghe ordered that the scheduled SriLankan direct flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to Colombo be diverted to Singapore so that he and his entourage could be picked up on the way, the Sunday Times reported. Passengers had to face an unscheduled landing at Changi Airport and were baffled as to the reasons for the change of course. Making matters worse, the Sunday Times reports that Wickremasinghe had been so highhanded with the national airline run at tax payers cost – that is already making billions in losses due to gross mismanagement – despite the fact that a scheduled SriLankan flight from Singapore to Colombo was to take off from Changi in just two hours. However, the Chairman had to get home “in a hurry” the newspaper reports. This despite the fact that the Chairman of SriLankan was on a personal visit to Singapore.
“Diverting an aircraft on a scheduled flight from one country to yet another is an exclusive privilege enjoyed by Heads of State or Government. However, in Sri Lanka it is a different story. Even the Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, can do it by merely making a telephone call,” the newspapre said.
“An irate local businessman asked a crew member why Chairman Wickremesinghe could not wait and board the scheduled flight out of Singapore. Replied the crew member; “For them, our aircraft are like three-wheeler taxis. They can stop them anywhere and whenever and wherever they need it.” The businessman remarked that no other self-respecting carrier would divert scheduled flights to pick up their Chairmen,” the report notes further.
Sri Lanka’s national carrier is in grave financial trouble, having to raise international bond issues in order to pay off its loans. The airline functions on a lifeline from the Treasury, going from being an award winning carrier during the management tenure of Emirates to the loss-making decrepit and unprofessional mess it has become today after the Rajapaksa Administration “nationalised” SriLankan and put a member of its massive extended family in charge.
SriLankan’s troubles have increased several fold after the Rajapaksa budget carrier Mihin Lanka, the brain child of Presidential confidant Sajin Vaas Gunewardane, was made a subsidiary of SriLankan. Mihin Lanka has been a loss making institution from inception, but the name the airline carries, a derivation of “Mahinda” – has made the Rajapaksa Administration wary of dissolving the ill-advised carrier. Mihin Lanka now offers trips to various destinations in the world that the two aircraft carrier cannot fly to, using SriLankan as its codeshare. Often Mihin Lanka also acts as the main carrier when in fact, the entire flight is managed by SriLankan staff and aircraft. Cabinet Ministers fear that SriLankan is headed for an economic crashlanding unless its management issues are resolved, Sunday Times says.