21 September, 2020

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SriLanakn Airlines: Full Time CEO To Part Time CEO/Pilot?

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

The new year 2017 has been heralded in at the national carrier SriLanakn Airlines with the President of the Airline Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka firing off its latest salvo by way of a letter addressed to the Chairman. The Pilot community have taken umbrage over the national carrier’s CEO making known of his desire to resume pilot duties, in addition to his duties as the airline’s CEO.

The communication, copied to the subject Minister, Board members, Head of Flight Operations and the CEO himself highlights several issues relevant to the subject. Key among the issues are; current CEO is not a qualified Airbus A320 pilot, should the airline already under severe financial strain bear the cost of revalidating the CEO’s pilots’ license to operate A320 aircraft and the advisability of a CEO with no previous experience as a CEO and resulting stress levels taking on additional responsibilities of a flight captain thus further increasing stress levels.

The Pilots’ Guild have been made to believe, the Board of Directors have given their consent for the CEO to proceed. However, it is understood such consent had been granted under different circumstances. A majority of board members had voted to extend the CEO’s probation period in mid-2016. Considering the possibility of not being confirmed to his post and eventual termination, it had been agreed he may be permitted to renew his pilots’ license, possibly to facilitate employment elsewhere in such an eventuality. However, since the majority board decision was overturned by Royal command and the CEO confirmed to his post without even a Performance Appraisal, the board’s concurrence in mid-2016 is no longer valid. There are several high profile former and current corporate leaders in the present board. It would be valid to question if these board members would consider a CEO found lacking in performance, to a junior position on a part time basis in companies they own or hold directorships.

CEO - Suren Ratwatte

CEO – Suren Ratwatte

It would be useful to provide readers with some background information related to what is require by the CEO to return to duties in the Flight Deck (also known as Cock Pit!). The CEO last held a license to operate Airbus A380 aircraft, issued by UAE civil aviation authorities. It is not valid in Sri Lanka as no A380 aircraft are registered in this country. Therefore, an aircraft type rating is required from Sri Lankan civil aviation authorities for aircraft validation. Once it is obtained, he will have to follow a complete base aircraft course for A320 aircraft, with a subsequent multi rating course for mixed fleet flying (in this case, A330 aircraft) if desired. The duration of such an exercise would be around one month on an accelerated or two months on standard schedule basis. The cost would amount to over Rs 3 million.

Besides the several important factors raised by the Pilots’ Guild, a key factor in this issue is the ability of a person who is a CEO of an international airline with a global reach to devote the necessary time, energy and effort for his regular duties whilst devoting part of his time for flying duties which entail stringent conditions such as specific number of hours of rest prior to and after a flight. Besides, it would be a total violation of his terms of employment which forbids any other form of employment paid or unpaid, a standard clause in all employment letters. In such a back ground, how would the company discipline any other employee for taking up secondary employment when its own CEO is in breach of the regulation? The allocation of valuable and costly simulator slots for training a pilot who would perform the minimum number of flights required to maintain license validity is of serious concern besides the ethics of drawing various allowances during flights besides pay and perks of a CEO.

A few months ago, there was much hype over several of the newer Airbus A330-300 aircraft being leased out to PIA (Pakistan International Airlines). Based on this development, it is reliably learnt, the board had approved the extension of lease agreements of three older A330-200 aircraft. However, it now transpires only one aircraft has been leased to PIA on a wet lease and that too only for a few months. Payments are known to be irregular and PIA is now supposedly negotiating with Pegasus Airlines, a private Turkish carrier, for leasing out their excess aircraft at a much lower rate in view of the virtual collapse of the tourism industry in Turkey. Meanwhile, lease agreements of three older A330-200 aircraft have been extended. Should the deal with PIA fall through, the national carrier will be saddled with three unwanted A330 aircraft and lease charges of around USD 1 million a month.

Some explosive situations involving the CEO (of both SriLankan Airlines and former Mihin Lanka) have taken place in the last fourteen months. The Airline Pilots’ Guild wrote to the Chairman on April 26, 2016 quoting three instances and stating “the antagonistic and threatening language used by the CEO, and his demonstrated lack of competency in his capacity, the ALPGSL membership has unanimously decided to place on record our loss of confidence in the current CEO”. The CEO has admitted to the use of the ‘F’ word during a meeting with the Pilots’ Guild. He also admitted “I am not a numbers man”. On August 23, 2016, nineteen senior staff of Mihin Lanka have written to the Chairman stating “it is with much sadness that we state, that we have lost faith and confidence in the unprofessional manner of the Chief Executive Officer in handling the entire amalgamation process to date”.

Good pilots do not necessarily make good CEOs. It is dependent on the managerial experience leadership qualities such persons possess, besides a pilots’ license backed by thousands of hours of flying time. Mr. Carsten Spohr, Chairman and CEO of Lufthansa is a graduate of Industrial Engineering from Karlsruhe University in Germany and obtained his commercial pilot’s license from the Lufthansa Flight Training School in Bremen and Phoenix (Arizona) which he still maintains. He then went on to complete a management training program at Deutsche Aerospace AG in Munich. After spending a few years as a commercial pilot, Sphor joined Lufthansa in 1994 as Head of Central Recruitment. He spent the next twenty years in different management positions in Recruitment, European Regional Partnerships, Alliances & Cooperations, Hub Management, Cabin Crew & HR Affairs and as CEO of Lufthansa Cargo AG. He was appointed Chairman of the Executive Board and CEO of Deutsche Lufthansa AG on May 01, 2014. An admirable curriculum vitae if there ever was one with a pilot’s license to boot.

It would not be unnatural to wonder the sudden urge of the CEO to take up flying duties. He is close to the company’s retirement age. For reasons best known to the board of directors, this CEO, unlike all former CEOs has been employed on permeant rather than on contract basis. Even one time CEO Manoj Gunewardena, a permanent employee for over thirty years was issued a three-year contract when appointed CEO. He reverted to his substantive grade once his contract expired. Only time will tell if the current CEO’s desire to revalidate his pilots’ license is a form of insurance, if bailing out becomes inevitable.

To conclude, the Presidential Commission appointed to investigate into affairs of Air Lanka in 1987 censured the then Chairman / Managing Director (in today’s terms, then MD would be today’s CEO) for claiming lack of time as an excuse for failure to deal with critical company matters. The Commissioners provided a list containing number of hours the Chairman/MD had spent piloting aircraft around the world, over several months. Sri Lanka is notorious for its inability to learn from past mistakes.

It would appear the national carrier is preparing to descend to its pre-1987 altitude. Would it be a prelude to a crash landing?

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Latest comments

  • 8
    0

    Surprising Sri Lankan Airways cannot find a suitable candidate to fill the position of CEO. The airline is ailing and a big burden on our economy and should not the government take urgent action in this regard.

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
    7

    hey Jaya, you got nothing else to write about ? how about your part time doings ?
    Think we don’t know about them?
    await expose in thee pages.Bye baby hamu! remember that endearment ?
    there in lies a tale and a couple of tails too !

  • 3
    0

    It sad that people still don’t understand what is going on at SriLankan.

    This isn’t a business – it’s a Racket.

    Once this is understood the rest falls into place.

    -The appointment of unqualified people.
    -Lack of action of any kind.
    -Blocking of all investigations into the Airline or its staff.
    -Culture of impunity and zero accountability.

    All designed to keep the Racketeering going.

    Ordering new aircraft is a dead give-away – MiG deal on a large scale.

    Still no word on who pocketed the comissions on the SriLankan aircraft order. The investigation has gone very quiet….

    Only the people of Sri Lanka can put a stop to this.

  • 2
    0

    It is time we admitted that there are NO Sri Lankans left who are capable of profitably running an airline. If we want to keep it for the sake of prestige rather than sell it off for what we can get, we need foreign managers, AND crew from the cheapest sources. I am sure Bangladeshi (for example) cabin crew will look as good as the current lot, albeit cheaper. They will be grateful too. Inability to speak Sinhala or Tamil? Well, I haven’t seen BA or SQ crew speaking Sinhala.
    Many Sri Lankan blue-chip companies already employ European and Indian managers without fanfare.
    I believe it might even be viable to sell off the airline, but keep the cabin crew, paying basic salaries only.

    • 1
      0

      old codger

      “If we want to keep it for the sake of prestige rather than sell it off for what we can get, we need foreign managers, AND crew from the cheapest sources.”

      Please note “Air India operates world’s longest all-woman flight” – Times of India reported on 7 March 2016.

      Excerpt:

      National carrier Air India on Monday said it flew the “world’s longest” all-woman operated and supported flight from the national capital to San Francisco.

      Could you you not hire Indian female crew to “man” Sri Lankan Airline.

      Cheapest sources do not not mean quality crew. You know the old adage, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys”. We already have enough monkeys manning most important institutions in this island though they are not concerned about value for money.

      • 2
        0

        N.V,
        “Could you you not hire Indian female crew to “man” Sri Lankan Airline.”
        I mentioned Bangladesh because Bengalis are said to be the ancestors of the Sinhalese. Our patriots are allergic to Indians, as you know.

        • 1
          0

          old codger

          I am sorry for a moment I forget the historical connection.

          Now I remember, the Bangladeshis were experts in genetic engineering, pioneers in hybrid cloning technology.

  • 3
    7

    Rajeeva you seem to be having a chip on your shoulder regarding Suren. Why what’s the problem. What’s wrong with Suren wanting to reactivate his licence to fly the A320. Suren must be thinking he has stabilized the ship and it might be in his contract that he could reactivate his licence and get back to flying . With the employment law in Srilanka he can’t get rid of the dead wood at Srilankan. He and Ando are doing a good job in turning around the Airline .

  • 1
    1

    Well said Old Codger regarding the Cabin Crew . As for competent Srilankans to run the Airline there are many . Politics is preventing finding the Suitable person . Looks like this Rajeeve guy has a bone to pick .

  • 4
    1

    [Edited out]

  • 3
    6

    So what is the solution then Sir ? Seems like in every article you take jabs and cuts at Suren Ratwatte more than addressing the massive structural weaknesses in the system. Did you write like this during MR’s regime?

    You also fail to ever mention his credentials of going to the best aeronautical school in the US and his experiences.

    He flew all sorts of planes and ended up rising to the top on his own merit without anyone’s help in the best airline in the world. Do you really think after flying the A-380 getting back into the A-320 will be hard for an experienced pilot? You seem to be having a massive chip on your shoulder because you were not chosen. Sure he got it for political connections; but with proven skills and the only Lankan to be named and cited with respect in a global best seller.

  • 5
    0

    This dam airline has been progressively politicized from day one.Politicization went to a unprecedented level during the Rajapaksa years when a high school drop out(educated upto grade 8)and legendary womanizer and brother in laws of King Rajapaksa ,Nishantha Wickremasinghe,was made Chairman.Then an inept Manoj De Vass Gunawardena was made CEO.Though a regular UL employee Manoj owed his appointment to the influence of his powerful king maker brother Sajin de Vass Gunewardene,another moron ,murderer and conman.Manoj personally was a nice bloke but did not have the capabilities of an airline CEO.To put it in context he was no Al Baker of Emirates for example.

    Then came Yahapalanaya and the so called change.Sadly nothing changed at all at Srilankan..Ajith Dias alias Jungi Dias ( leading ladies underwear exporter)clueless in airlines became Chairman.Then Suren Ratwatte an absolutely unsuitable choice was made CEO solely due to been the brother of Charitha Ratwatte.Suren has adopted the bull dozer approach and the frequent use of the F word to gloss over his incompetence as CEO.As CEO his abilities are no better than those of Manoj de Vass Gunawardena,though in terms of pleasing personality Manoj is infinitely better than the dour faced cantankerous Suren.Yet a pleasing personality is only one attribute of a sophisticated Airline CEO..Just take a look at the CEOs of Emirates,Eitihad and Qatar for the ideal appointee and copy.Its not rocket science.

    Rajiva Jayaweera too would have been a horrible choice for CEO had he been successful..But don’t blame him for writing the truth.I do not agree with all he writes but on this article he is 100% spot on.Unless the government takes an objective critical look at it will be down hill all the way and then to extinction for our beloved Srilankan soon,just like in the instances of Air Ceylon and very recently the notorious Mihin Air.Sadly its demise is on the wall.

  • 6
    0

    In coming to their own conclusions readers may note the huge chasm of a distinction between a good Pilot and a good CEO.

    A good pilot must excel in the restrictive confines of the flight deck for long hours and have a excellent safety record.The job has zero room for error and needlessly to say a very responsible one.However, being a good pilot is no key to being a good CEO, even though being a good CEO would help in being a good pilot.(provided of course one has the appropriate flying license and experience !)

    In contrast, aCEO has to have the ability to straddle many contrasting and sometimes impossible responsibilities in ensuring that management decisions are implemented in seamless fashion.He has to have HR,PR and common sense in equal measure, for he is the lynch pin between the employees and the board of directors heade by the chairman, to say nothing about the owners, in this case the government of Sri Lanka.The difference between loss and profit lay to a great extent on his shoulders.His HR ability comes in the form of his picking the right man/woman for the job at hand.First created in the US, one of the powers of the CEO is to hire and fire depending on performance. Simply put, if the CEO does not deliver his head is the first on the chopping block.

    So, the job of a pilot and that of a CEO is the difference between chalk and cheese.Only a polymath of a pilot would make a good CEO of an airline.By sheer examination of record there has been no such man as CEO/Srilankan to date.

  • 4
    2

    Hiddleston

    Why not read comment by Colin Robertson, use your grey matter (if you have any) and write a more realistic comment?

  • 0
    0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2/

  • 2
    3

    All in all the present Chairman and the CEO are very honorable gentlemen. Though the CEO is an industry expert Chairman is a layman. The issue that I see here is that they are not backed by a top quality team to take the airline forward. The current set of senior officers lack knowledge though some of them are experienced. What we require here is at lease few top industry experts to salvage this airline without wasting public funds for maintaining officials looking at micro picture.

    • 1
      0

      yeah yeah yeah, it’s the team that is bad……The ‘skipper’ is brilliant, the ‘chairperson’ is honourable ..different tune please, we are sick of hearing this. Stop insulting the long suffering middle management at the airline, its not their fault that they are used for political football. Ganganath, don’t you have anything better to do?

  • 2
    5

    Mr Jayaweera you may be hoodwinking people who are not connected to aviation but not the industry community.

    Mr ‘ CUTEX ” it is only a dream if you are targeting for the post of CEO. I never believe RW will ever think of you having ruined the country already. He will never do such stupid thing in his life. Please open up a bucket shop and start up business. we will help you

    • 3
      0

      why do some always think Mr.Jayaweera has ulterior motives behind his articles on Sri Lankan Airlines ? Regardless of what he was or what he did when at Sri Lankan he surely seems to be having a better understanding of Aviation issues compared to most of the Readers.

      The issue here is not his personality but the contents of the Article itself.If facts are not correct let us point it out .

  • 1
    0

    To al of you who praise the CEO
    Typical Sri Lankan style Pooja to the CEO while ignoring the facts by the writer.
    So let’s see how has the CEO delivered in the past year.
    No payment by PIA- howcome the payment wasn’t taken in advance as tper industry norms.
    Cancellation penalty- 98Mil USD for 45mil USD
    A350 buyers -German aviation chased away.
    Loss of revenue from closure of routes.
    Men with integrity don’t come in through the back door.
    Let’s give your favourite CEO 10 more years and see if he can do any good to the airline.

  • 1
    0

    There is a very simple way of determining whether someone is qualified to hold a position or not.

    “Could this person hold the same position anywhere else?”

    In the case of the Chairman and the CEO the answer is clearly “No”.

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