By Marlon Dale Ferreira –
It is now time when the country’s current leadership is at a the stage of completing “operation mop up” by bringing people to justice, especially those who were entrusted to responsible posts and who have sadly gone on to ravage the country financially plunging it to a state of abysmal chaos instead.
Unraveling the many misdeeds that have been committed by the Sri Lankan Airline’s still remaining and politically appointed top brass which includes the Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena and the Airlines ‘Senior Management Team’ (SMT) may now be the order of the day. Especially those who have gone on contributing largely to the current predicament that has befallen our national carrier, making it nose dive into a serious loss, as revealed in parliament which is a staggering amount of over Rs 100 billion.
Being informed and therefore being in the knowledge of many irregularities taking place within the airline itself and not bringing it to the notice of the authorities is somewhat similar to “harboring of a fugitive”. This usually warrants those with knowledge and who choose to keep quiet, guilty as charged as those perpetrators itself.
For starters the entire country blames the previous regime for milking the national airline dry by appointing many political stooges that have now gone on to take the airline basically to the cleaners.
However it was not the Rajapaksa’s who ran this airline physically, but instead it was run by the “first and second” tier below the former ruler, who in all fairness should be investigated fully and held responsible if found guilty.
The question asked in many circles at present is, do we really need the same team to continue or do we need new blood with astonishing ideas and a change in mindset to face the many international challenges the aviation world poses.
It was not too long ago when Air Lanka then commenced its operations in 1979 and under the astute management of Singapore Airlines did they really make a name for themselves and the country, as they soared the skies with great pride and a viable bottom line.
Over the years the years the airline industry saw great carriers emerge and also quietly fizzle away when faced with the many global aviation related challenges each decade had to offer.
If the 70’s saw the European carriers British Airways, Lufthansa and Swiss Air set bench marks for others airlines to follow, then it was with the turn of the 80’s that Asian airlines like Singapore Airlines, Malaysian Airlines, Cathay Pacific and Thai Airways take over.
However in the 90’s it was a turn that currently still holds sway 25 years later, when Middle Eastern airlines entered the market and with it took a way a huge chunk of the global aviation pie.
They came to Sri Lankan and they took the choicest of employees that Sri Lankan Airlines possessed and it is clearly visible if you look at all the former Sri Lankan Airlines staff manning key positions among the gulf carriers. No doubt Emirates Airline, closely followed by Qatar Airwars, Eithad Airways and now the refurbished and re-branded Oman Air have posed some of the biggest possible threats that Sri Lankan Airlines has faced besides the fluctuating prices of aviation jet fuel.
If over the years the Senior Management has been ineffective and incompetent to say the least, and if they could not face the posed aviation challenges and fly over unscathed, then perhaps it may be time to relieve these professionals of their official positions and make way for newer outlooks through newer dynamic individuals to take the airline first out of this rut and then perhaps towards a greater altitude of hope.
The current team of Senior Management of Sri Lankan Airlines and all its political appointees together with some of the staff who reached great heights by currying favour with the top brass, should all be then packed off and dispatched as soon as possible purely based on their collective incompetent performance.
Even they would dig deep down within and agree that they have been massive failures as aviation professionals. A Rs 100 billion loss will never be able to be recovered in their professional life time anymore.
There is no point in bottling ‘old wine’ for consumption in ‘new bottles’, when ‘new wine’ could be bottled instead.
That is exactly the point that should be driven under the watchful eyes of Ajit Dias the newly appointed Chairman of the airline.
Only time will tell if this new Chairman will deliver the goods as his close friendships outside of the airline with those currently holding top posts like the Chief Executive Officer Kapila Chandrasena and Chief Operations Officer Capt. Druvi Perera may hinder the many great ideas and changes that he may bring in his quest to even attempt saving the now sunk airline.
I wish to congratulate him on his appointment to this very respectful and prestigious post held in the past by some even more respected professionals and of course then there were the ones who were not so respected too like the departed last one.
I sincerely hope and pray for his sake that one day when he departs, I could lay my hand on my heart and sincerely write a few truthful things about his tenure and hopefully state some of the things that true legends leave behind when they depart. The legacies I talk about are the ones which are usually left behind by great leaders who influenced change for the better. When I say ‘legacies’, I mean those that generated profits, reduced costs, introduced efficient policies, procedures and processors and left the place in a better healthy state that when they received it initially.
I shudder to think sometimes that he like the previous Chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe also enters the aviation arena with little or no experience at all.
If Wickremasinghe knew only what a tea bush looked like, I assume he too would also know a thing or two about buttons and thread coming from the apparel industry. But then again he comes with some sort of exposure in handling corporate busineses that the general public has given him a decent nod and will wait to see how he handles the pressures being the big man of the airline.
Rest assured since his appointment is of a political nature he will also end up wallowing in a consome ala a ‘political soup’ as long as he occupies that seat. That’s the truth and the fact of the matter.
He needs to be informed and advised of all the pit falls that the airline has plunged into from every possible angle and provided with unstinted support, as he takes his seat to commence office for the very first time.
The loss making Airbus A320 Flight Simulator, the inefficient crew rostering Sabre System, a complete review of the current contract offered to the In Flight Service Duty Free supplier, restructuring and reducing the unnecessary top senior management heavy departments, reviewing contracts offered to General Sales Agents overseas , Reviewing of Ground Handling contracts for overseas and also services provided to other operators locally, ensuring process manuals are in place for the entire airline to map out a valid and correct man power cadre, complete review of engineering contracts, spare parts and repair deals, investigating ground handling inefficiencies and fraud, complete review of all Sales and Marketing contracts , complete review of all tender procedures, pricing, purchasing, yield, complete review of all outsourced third party suppliers, review of catering contracts and costing are just a few that come off memory.
Ajit Dias the former Thomian does enter the airline with a sound head screwed on to his shoulders but more over as a former employer himself who has always had the best interest for all his employees at heart always and renowned for keeping his stake holders happy.
We trust he will surround himself with competent aviation professionals who will help him achieve his vision, a mission, strategy and a plan as he takes over our national carrier.
If all fails the country’s leadership may have to rethink handing the airline over to another successful airline to manage it like when they did with Emirates Airline from 1998-2008.
On a positive note it is remarkable to mention that the Gulf carrier of Dubai is known to have not touched a cent off the country’s treasury when it ran the airline during that period. Speak to some existing staff and they will tell you that working conditions were much better too.
For the record the management of Emirates Airline discouraged and did not even entertain the idea of operating the “air taxi” domestic flight operation which subsequently was attempted by Sri Lankan Airlines not too long ago. The design and implementation for the water ways for takeoff and landing costing millions plus the rental of two 18 year old twin otter type aircraft at an approximate rate of US $1800 per hour and a guaranteed minimum payment of 80 hours for both aircraft, proved to be a failure even before it could ever take off. Bemused aviation professionals were assured later that there was more that met the eye in this start up operation that is now handed over and run by John Keells as Cinnamon Air.
“You’re our world”