Colombo Telegraph

SriLankan Airlines Breathalyzer Fiasco: Pilots Say “We Ain’t Striking Just Simply Doing Our Jobs”

“We are not going on any strike, but merely going to complete our flying duties which are stipulated in our monthly rosters only” a member of the Airline Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka told Colombo Telegraph yesterday.

The statement was made as the ALPGSL held a press briefing last evening highlighting the stance they have opted to take. This is regarding the national carrier’s suspension of their member Capt. Sujith Jayasekara’s flying duties for his alleged refusal to comply with a breathalyzer test carried out by the security personnel of the airline prior to his flight departure to Bangkok on the 28th of August 2016.

The stance taken by the pilots of SriLankan Airlines to not fly on their off days and extend flying duty periods will certainly have the national carrier cancelling flights due to the shortage of pilots.

This is an area that the senior management of the airline has taken for granted despite the fact that the pilots have supported the airline maintain its flying schedule over a considerable period of time. Currently nine more pilots have tendered their resignation and are scheduled to join other airlines.

“If flights get cancelled or there is any disruption to the airline’s operation then the onus should be directed at Chairman Dias and CEO.Ratwatte and not us pilots” the Pilots Guild member said.

Continuing to speak to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity as he is not permitted to speak to the media the Pilots Guild member said “Sadly Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe has been misled once again by Chairman Ajith Dias and CEO Capt.Suren Ratwatte. If going to work and complying to what’s been asked of you is being defined as going on strike, then the definition of ‘strike’ will perhaps need to be redefined. In our letter to the CEO Capt.Ratwatte all we have stated is that we will take all necessary actions to protect our membership. We have not stated we are going to strike”.

“What many have failed to understand is that Chairman Dias and CEO Capt.Suren Ratwatte has been badly managing the airline ever since they have taken over the reins. Chairman Dias and CEO Ratwatte have now shown no mercy for us. Why should we support the two of them in return? We have no issues with any other member of the board of directors. After supporting the airline throughout all they choose to do is continue to victimize us. Capt. Sujith Jayaskara’s incident is a classic example here. They appointed unqualified security personnel from within the airline to carry out breathalyzer tests on us. Capt. Jayasekara, one of our most respected and distinguished pilots simply asked these security personnel a series of questions. All they did was squirm and permit them to go on their way and operate their flight as they felt uncomfortable with the questions being asked. If the pilots were drunk then they should have been stopped. Why is the security personnel not suspended too from their jobs like they have now done to Capt.Jayasekara pending this investigation? ” he asked.

Earlier Capt. Jayasekara wrote to the ALPGSL highlighting excerpts of his conversation regarding the sequence of events that took place between him, his co-pilot and the security personnel prior to his departure to Bangkok.

Published below is his letter.

SEQUENCE OF EVENTS ON 28TH SUNDAY WHILE REPORTING FOR THE FLIGHT UL402 – CMB/BKK (A321 )
Crew – Capt – S. J. Jayasekera
F/O – Rahul Madurapperuma
Flight _ UL 402 Airbus A321 CMB/BKK
Place – Srilankan Airlines Flight Control Centre
Time – Approximately 0015hrs onwards

Events – Both crew members came to the Airport together quite early. Since I had to attend on a few matters at the checking in counters, I requested my First Officer to proceed to the FCC. I reported to FCC around 0010hrs. when I came to the briefing counter the FCC Supervisor Mr. Sidath informed me that there was a team awaiting to carry out a breathalyzer check on UL402 crew. Then I asked him is it only our flight, to which he said No, the crew of UL553 was also checked. Then I requested to send the team before me.
Three gentlemen came in front of me and following are the questions posed by me ,and the answers given by them.

Q1. Can you please identify your selves.- They identified as two of them from Srilankan security of which one was the Duty Manager Security and the third person from Srilankan Security Investigations.
Q2. I asked whether this test is only on our flight?
A2. No Captain we also did UL553.
Q3. I have been now talking to you, and for you to check me , do I smell of any alcohol?
A3. No Captain not at all.
Q4. Have you got any information to say that I have been partying or consuming liquor before this flight?
A4. No Nothing like that Captain.
Q5. Did you at least get any anonymous call or a message stating that I was consuming liquor before this flight ?
A5. No Captain
Q6. In which case you are trying to breathalyzer test on me without any suspicion?
A6. Yes we have been asked to do so.

Then I stated – that it doesn’t seem the correct way to do, because there could be religious people who have never touched alcohol, like some Muslim persons and they could get offended. Further it could amount to a violation of human rights and disrespect to human dignity. However if you still want me to do this test I would do it. But under the above circumstances if I do this test, I may not be in a proper frame of mind to operate the flight as I would be doing something against my conscious.
Final response – the team stated – Captain there is no need to do this test you can carry on and do the flight wishing us “ Have a Good Flight Captain“ .Thanking them we continued and departed one minute ahead of schedule to Bangkok.

Earlier the ALPGSL wrote officially to the CEO.Capt Ratwatte stating that Capt. Sujith Jayasekara should be re-instated immediately and also stated that the procedure of conducting the breathalyzer tests be reviewed.

The ALPGSL also wrote to the Director General H.M.C.Niamalasiri of the Civil Aviation Authority and requested him to suspended the flawed breathalyzer test procedure that was being enforced.

The Director General then summoned a meeting at the CAA office last morning and a new procedure was implemented with the consent of all three stake holders present, which were the CAA, the management of the airline and members of the ALPGSL.

Fearing the eventual repercussions that may arise due to flights being cancelled, the Head of Flight Operations Capt. Rajind Ranatunga in a last ditch effort wrote to his pilots yesterday.

His letter is found below.

Dear Colleagues,

I write with reference to the meeting I had yesterday with fellow flight crew members, and I wish to reiterate that we must all unite and work towards the common goal of protecting the image of our national carrier. It is vital that we strive towards this, especially at this juncture where the national carrier is about to embark on a public-private partnership.
Therefore I urge my fellow pilots not to make any hasty decisions which will not stand in good stead in the eye of the public, the shareholder, fellow employees and any future business partner. We at Flight Operations management always believe that any disagreement can be resolved through dialogue and we urge you to take this path.

Warm regards,

Captain Rajind Ranatunga
Head of Flight Operations
SriLankan Airlines Ltd.
Flight Operations, Airline Centre, Bandaranaike International Airport, Katunayake, Sri Lanka.

” May be like Member of Parliament Hirunika Premachandra stated yesterday, ‘ Justice was served today for my father Bharatha Lakshman’s murder because of the intervention of our President Maithripala Sirisena’. Perhaps even us pilots may need his Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena’s timely intervention to get justice done for our national carrier. Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe’s trusted and appointed men Chairman Ajith Dias and CEO Capt.Suren Ratwatte currently don’t have a clue on how to run this airline” concluded our source within the Pilots Guild.

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