Sri Lanka as a country runs the risk of being blacklisted by the International Civil Aviation Organization said Director General Civil Aviation Authority H.M.C.Nimalasiri in an exclusive interview with Colombo Telegraph.
The Director General’s statement comes hot on the heals after ICAO’s regional office in Bangkok Thailand sent him a 42 page complaint made to them for an alleged series of flight violations committed by Mihin Lanka between 20th June 2015 and 3rd September 2015 and seeking explanation.
Mihin Lanka has been managed by SriLankan Airlines since 2015 since the yahapalanaya government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickramasinghe took office.
The document sent by ICAO’s regional officer Flight Safety Asia/Pacific Amal Hewawasam to the Director General Nimalasiri has now been forwarded by him to SriLankan Airlines Chairman Ajith Dias.
However the failure of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to investigate two serious safety related issues reported officially by Capt. Charles Sirimanne is what now has set the cat among the pigeons.
Captain Charles Sirimanne’s employment was terminated by Mihin Lanka on the 10th of September 2015.
The reason for his termination was where contractually either party could provide three months notice and end the contract.
Capt. Sirimanne was provided a letter by Mihin Lanka which stated that he is been paid three months wages and his employment ended with immediate effect. He subsequently filed a case in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka for unlawful dismissal.
However what transpired thereafter is what has now got the ICAO, CAA of Sri Lanka and even the national carrier embroiled in a tango that is certainly going to expose the serious flaws of the CAA and the officials who run the affairs of the regulatory body.
In a sworn affidavit provided by Capt. Pujitha Jayakody in his submission to the Supreme Court, he went on to justify Capt.Sirimanne’s termination was due to acts of sabotage.
This reason was contrary to the letter of termination issued to Capt.Sirimanne by Mihin Lanka.
It is the same safety related incidents that Capt. Sirimanne reported to the CAA of Sri Lanka that has now been turned against him.
However documentary evidence seen by Colombo Telegraph reveals that the Civil Aviation of Sri Lanka failed to investigate these serious safety related incidents reported first by Capt.Sirimanne.
Subsequently it has come to light by ommission and or by commission that the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka has jeopardized the integrity of the country.
Since the 10th of September 2015 sufficient proof exists that it has violated the Air Navigation Regulation Act of Sri Lanka.
The Air Navigation Regulation of Sri Lanka number 208, (1) clearly states “No operator shall employ in Ceylon in any capacity in any aircraft operation licensed under this part a person who is not a citizen of Ceylon, except with the prior approval of the Director in writing. 208(2) Before approving the appointment of any person not being a citizen of Ceylon to act in any capacity in an aircraft operation licensed under the provisions of this part, the Director shall satisfy himself that no person who is a citizen of Ceylon with suitable qualifications is available for appointment.
In the termination letter provided to Capt. Sirmanne there is no mention of misconduct or any reason of incompetence that warranted his termination.
Director General Nimalasiri when asked as to why an inquiry was not held by the CAA into the safety violations reported earlier by Capt. Charles Sirimanne, he said “I wrote to the Chairman Ajith Dias and inquired as to why Capt. Sirimannewas terminated. Chairman Dias informed me that Capt. Sirimanne was terminated on disciplinary grounds. I chose not to pursue the issue as he was already terminated anyway and there was no point constituting an inquiry”.
If so, then the Chairman Ajith Dias has even contradicted himself in this instance, as it was under section 13 of Capt. Sirimanne’s letter of appointment that was was cited as the reason for his employment to have ended.
Capt. Sirimanne stated that he followed the proper protocol channels prior to sending his report to ICAO. “In an earlier incident seven co-pilots of Mihin Lanka wrote directly to the ICAO complaining about being verbally abused and harassed by their then chief pilot Themiya Abeywickrama of Mihin Lanka. However ICAO stated that instead of the complaint been forwarded directly to them it needed to be handed to their local regulatory body first. The letter was eventually diverted to Capt. Druvi Perera the Chief Operations Officer of SriLankan Airlines who was managing the operations of Mihin Lanka at that time” he said.
The seven Co-Pilots who reported this incident were then taken to task and harassed further.
Majority of those seven pilots resigned and joined other airlines due to the uncertainty of their careers.
Blaming the management of Sri Lankan Airlines the Director General went on to say “This entire fiasco between Capt. Pujitha Jayakody and Capt. Charles Sirimanne of Mihin Lanka was a personal grudge the former bore against his now terminated captain. When he was Mihin Lanka’s Manager Flight/Ground Safety Captain Sirimanne objected to a programme that Capt. Jayakody was trying to implement. This programme was where Mihin Lanka attempted to sell cadet pilot training programs to unqualified Indian (expatriate) flyers. This would have prevented the entry of future qualified Sri Lankan nationals from gaining entrance to Mihin Lanka. Moreover the scrapping of this pilot training programme was due to the newly introduced CAA requirement where at minimum a frozen Air Transport Pilot License (ATPL) to fly a Sri Lankan registered aircraft was made mandatory”.
Commenting further DG Nimalasiri went on to say “Capt. Sirimanne was right in his complaint which was violating all norms and the programme had to be terminated. Thereafter Capt. Sirimanne was removed as the Manager Flight/Ground Safety by Mihin Lanka even though his removal had to come through our office. The airline’s management should have handled this case better and nipped this in the bud then. It has now got blown out of proportion and has become an international issue. We could even be blacklisted by ICAO which is a far more serious issue”.
The petition pertaining to five flights operated by Mihin Lanka to Seychelles in 2015, was sent directly to ICAO and was confirmed by Capt. Sirimanne. This was done by Capt. Sirimanne after the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka had also been notified about this series of flights in writing initially, which the CAA of Sri Lanka chose to ignore.
“As I was left with no other option, I wrote to ICAO directly as the CAA was turning a blind eye to these serious lapses. Even Fly Dubai crashed recently killing all board due to a similar bad weather related issue. I have personally sent in many reports that warranted immediate investigations in the past, but the CAA always brushed it under the carpet. Everybody knows that and there is nothing anyone could do. This is Sri Lanka after all. We as a nation have been lucky to have averted many disasters in the past despite the several shortcomings of our very own regulatory body. The aircraft manufacturers have given us very good aircraft and our engineers have done a superb job over the years to ensure that they are maintained in very good condition. All I was interested in was to ensure that safety standards are met to the international standards that we are governed by. Is that too much to ask for? I had to now pay a heavy price even losing my job because of highlighting these issues. But that is fine. We are responsible for many lives when we fly them. That is what is most important. If this could be rectified at the cost of my job, then I don’t mind.” said Capt. Sirimanne.
Captain Lalith Wijetunga another Mihin Lanka pilot tendered his resignation in soon after the termination of Capt. Charles Sirimanne, as he no longer had faith in the safe operation of the airline.
Part of his lengthy letter of resignation in disgust states “The staff of any organisation need to be constantly updated on the changes taking place around them but even as Captains we were the last to know of such and that too from the media or through our valued passengers. Communication within the company had ceased to exist. Vengeance, that led to the illogical termination of Capt Charles Sirimanne showed us the lowest depths we finally fell into. It is heartening to note that some of his valuable suggestions in operating safer flights to Seychelles is today being implemented by UL.I too had authored many letters suggesting improvements and had lodged many complaints in the past through letters, voyage reports, ASR’s and MOR’s. A few bore fruit, though grudgingly and after much prodding. The exposure to the illegal and dangerous practice of overloading our aircraft by a corrupt few readily comes to mind. Such reports are of serious safety concern to an airline and would’ve bothered any responsible management but that too fell on deaf ears. It was indeed sad to note that even the former DFO and the CEO chose to ignore this serious threat to aviation, in terms of safety and the loss of much needed revenue for reasons best known to themselves.
These contents prove that despite having a qualified CRM specialist as the current CEO in Capt. Suren Ratwatte, the process is in absolute shambles.
The Director General Nimalasiri confirmed that the following three cases will be thoroughly investigated by the CAA at the conclusion of Colombo Telegraph’s interview with him.
- Five flights operated by Mihin Lanka MJ 707/8 CMB/SEY/CMB on the 20th June 2015, 25th August 2015, 29th August 2015, 1st September 2015 and 3rd September 2015.
- MJ 305/6 26th of February 2015 – Flight Delay by 30 minutes due offloading of large volumes of alcohol (Dangerous Goods) brought on board by passengers.
- Capt. Vinodh De Silva’s refusal to operate MJ 707/8 CMB/SEY/CMB due to the weather being below the required safety standards. However Capt. Pujitha Jayakody took the decision to operate the flight as the commander despite the flight being illegal to operate under the weather conditions.
Stated below are a few incidents that the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka swept under the carpet:
1. Capt. Druvi Perera (Sri Lankan Airlines) on landing into Chennai (India) the aircraft under his control skidded way off the runway damaging the runway lights. He continued to taxi to the parking bay. This was hushed up by the CAA of Sri Lanka. However subsequently he was promoted to the post of Chief Operations Officer. As the Chief Operations Officer he instructed the pilot training managers Capt. Ranga Amadoru and Capt. Patrick Fernando to reduce the pass mark in order to recruit two cadet pilots who had failed their exams. Both Capt. Amadoru and Capt. Fernando resigned from their posts as they refused to comply with Capt.Druvi Perera’s orders. This is highlighted in the Weliamuna/Jayaratne Board of Inquiry report.
2. Capt. Keminda Yahampath (Sri Lankan Airlines) – Burst several tires of the aircraft due to an unsafe landing into Trivandrum. What was more dangerous was that he taxied with burst tires to the parking bay. Miraculously a catastrophic situation was averted despite continuing to taxi on shredded tires and just on bare steel rims, where the slightest of friction could have had the aircraft in a ball of flames. He was subsequently promoted and currently is the Manager Flight /Ground Safety of SriLankan Airlines and also of Mihin Lanka since 21st May 2015. This was after the orchestrated removal of Capt.Sirimanne from the post. He was instrumental in providing an inaccurate proposal to gloss and facilitate the illegal operation to Seychelles when the weather is below safety requirements.He proved that he does not have the basic knowledge on this subject.
3. Capt. Anupama Pathirane (Sri Lankan Airlines) – He practiced an engine a failure during takeoff which is the most critical stage of any flight. Further he neglected to retract the landing gear and due to the subsequent drag, burnt more fuel and could not make it to his destination. He lied in his Air Safety Report report stating that there was a vibration and that he reduced the engine power and completed the required procedure to re-cycle the landing gear. The digital flight recorder proved otherwise. He was not terminated however the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka re-issued his flying license despite his incompetence and dishonesty.
4. Capt. Adrian Cramer (Mihin Lanka) – Took an unqualified ETOPS pilot on a two man cockpit operation to fly CMB/CGK/CMB (ETOPS Flight) violating laid down procedures. As a Designated Check Pilot himself (DCP) for the CAA. No record has been seen up to date or known if any action was taken against him.
5. Capt. Chinthaka Nilaweera (Sri Lankan Airlines) – Simulator Instructor plus Designated Check Pilot himself, took off from Colombo in the night when the runway lights was switched off due to a power failure.
6. Capt. Kosala Ekanayake (Sri Lankan Airlines) – Left a trainee cadet pilot all on her own in the cockpit and went to the toilet. The trainee cadet pilot detecting bad weather ahead on the radar left the cockpit in search of her Captain. The cockpit was unmanned and in an auto pilot mode for some time. The trainee pilot was previously cleared of her cover pilot requirement.
7. Capt. Gajendra Wagh (Mihin Lanka) – Was found fast asleep at the controls of his flight after the co-pilot Subki Lafir had to use the cockpit re-entry emergency override switch to gain access into to the flight deck. This was after the co-pilot Lafir had gone to the toilet and found himself locked out of the cockpit. Capt.Wagh was sacked immediately after this incident. In fact he was on a warning for a similar lapse recorded earlier. With no one to be blamed for this incident, the onus fell on co-pilot Subki Lafir who was reported to have been harassed to the point of him resigning. He joined a far eastern airline after it was he who brought the situation under control in flight.
8. Capt. Milinda Ratnayake (Sri Lankan Airlines – recently retired) landed the aircraft on a training flight in Colombo when the runway was not cleared. Despite the Air Traffic Controller permitting clearance for his approach and landing Capt.Ratnayake failed to do a go around on his visual approach. He landed the aircraft whilst a military carrier was still on the runway.
9. Capt. Wendell Kelaart (Sri Lankan Airlines – recently retired) was punished by Sri Lankan Airlines on the instructions of the CAA of Sri Lanka for an alleged low take off in London Heathrow (LHR). Capt. Kelaart was subsequently cleared by the UK AAIB authorities who flew in to Colombo on two occasions to complete their investigations. The initial alleged procedural violation was termed as a ‘serious incident’. However there was no recorded evidence of any violations found in the aircraft or on the ground in LHR by the Civil Aviation Authority in the United Kingdom. Capt. Kelaart was punished and designated to fly as an in flight relief pilot for one year. Eight months into his punishment for no wrongdoing he was eventually cleared by CAA of Sri Lanka and permitted to fly as a regular captain as the once termed ‘serious incident’ was downgraded to an ‘incident’. Capt. Kelaart was served a letter for his alleged procedural violation which did not exist at that time. However subsequently it was introduced and inserted into the Flight Operations Manual two days after the punishment was imposed. Despite being served several letters by both the airline and the CAA, Capt. Kelaart still remains to be officially cleared of this false charge. This issue created a further storm despite the safe take-off procedures been enforced by Capt. Kelaart, when the take-off calculation charts were not available in the cockpit. This is a fault of the airline which was subsequently corrected by CAA. Capt. Kelaart utilized a similar take-off chart used for a different airport which had a similar runway length for take –off and a much higher temperature. The day prior to this incident, Capt. Nanada Nadarajah carried out the identical procedure to depart from Ankara. However the CAA of or SriLankan Airlines did not find any fault with Capt.Nadarajah even though he documented it.
10. Capt. Charles Sirimanne (Mihin Lanka) – The CAA of Sri Lanka up to date has not held an investigation into the dismissal of one of their licensed holders. Four different reasons have been documented by Mihin Lanka as reasons for Capt. Charles termination. The first being where contractually either party could provide three months notice and end the contract. Strangely Capt. Pujitha Jayakody provided a sworn affidavit to the Supreme Court stating that Capt. Sirimanne was terminated for acts of sabotage. Ironically the acts as stated in his sworn affidavit was reported by Capt. Charles Sirimanne himself previously to the CAA of Sri Lanka. The CAA failed to investigate both cases. The CAA in the past had even selected Capt.Sirimanne to sit on their panel of evaluation of military pilots knowledge for issuance of civil license,(which is now implemented)and also do have a history of his credentials as a pilot and Manager Flight/Ground Safety. The CAA also has evidence of how Capt. Pujitha Jayakody was arrested and remanded in Singapore by the police for shoplifting whilst on duty. That particular flight was delayed where a new set of pilots had to be flown in to Singapore to bring back the aircraft and stranded passengers and cabin crew. The CAA of Sri Lanka does also know the credibility of Capt. Pujitha Jayakody and if his statement provided to the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka needs to be queried further. Capt. Jayakody has now provided information in his submitted affidavit to Supreme Court pertaining to safety related incidents that even the CAA of Sri Lanka is yet to investigate. As the sole regulatory authority the CAA of Sri Lanka has the power to conduct an investigation and clear Capt. Sirimanne to continue flying as a pilot, even if it means for another airline.