2 December, 2023


SriLankan Airlines: Insufficient Fuel On Board Heathrow Flight Forces Diversion To Gatwick

A SriLankan Airlines flight operating from Colombo to London Heathrow on the 15th of September 2016 was forced to divert to London Gatwick due to insufficient fuel on board.

The scheduled SriLankan Airlines flight piloted by Capt. P. Manathunga was sent into a holding pattern by the Air Traffic Control tower prior to its arrival into London Heathrow.

SriLankan AirlinesSensing insufficient fuel after completing a few minutes in a holding pattern, Capt. Manathunga was then forced to divert to London Gatwick instead.

It is reported that the Airbus A330 – 300 aircraft utilized to operate this flight with registration 4R ALR, though being delivered brand new last year has been experiencing a fuel hiding recurring problem. The faulty glitch is where approximately two tons of fuel mysteriously goes missing in flight.

However in order to minimize the delay into London Heathrow and to escape any surcharge for departing at night, Capt. Manathunga extended the flight duty periods of both the Pilots and Flight Attendants using “Commander’s Discretion”.

The flight finally departed for London Heathrow almost two hours later after the aircraft was refueled at Gatwick.

Meanwhile a pilot of another airline traveling as a passenger said “This is absurd. Any flight operator should carry the fuel required for the trip and to his destination alternate, plus 3o minutes of holding fuel at destination or destination alternate plus contingency fuel of 3 % to 5% of the total fuel carried which are all specified in the Flight Operations Manual and approved by the operator’s Civil Aviation Authority. This is the norm. Had the procedures been followed to the letter, this situation would not have arisen. The Question is, did the captain carry less fuel to accommodate more payload ? or was there a discrepancy in the actual baggage weights which contributed towards incorrect fuel planning by the flight dispatchers? or was there a miscalculation in the “Performance Factor” of the aircraft which resulted in giving a lesser fuel burn for the trip on paper during planning? the passengering pilot asked.

Coincidentally the Pilots Guilds President Capt. Renuke Senanayake who flew the same aircraft the very next day to Frankfurt decided to carry an extra ton of fuel knowing fully well of the incident that took place the previous day over London.

Meanwhile certain members of the ALPGSL who felt let down by Capt. Manathunga’s decision to extend the flight duty period complained that he had not adhered to the collective decision that was taken by his fellow member pilots at their recently concluded Emergency Meeting. This is where over 60 pilot members of the ALPGSL collectively agreed to only fly their ‘published roster’, not fly on off days and not extend flight duty periods in protest of their member and Senior Capt. Sujith Jayasekara being suspended by the airline for his alleged refusal to be breathalyzed prior to operating a flight recently.

Sources confirmed that Capt. Manathunga had contacted his ALPGSL President Capt. Renuke Senanayake from London Gatwick after he had diverted seeking advice on his next course of action. The Guild President had then instructed Capt. Manathunga to extend the flight duty period and proceed to London Heathrow.

A member of the Pilots Guild speaking on condition of anonymity said ” Capt.Renuke Senanayake is due to step down as the President of the Pilots Guild on the 23rd of September 2016. Obviously he had decided on his own to make this decision and save face with the management, as he will now be a normal pilot on the line. It is also a known fact that Capt.Senanayake and the Head of Flight Operations Capt.Rajind Ranatunga are very close friends both as professionals and also on a personal capacity. Perhaps Capt. Senanayake did not want to rock the boat for his pal Capt. Ranatunga just prior to his departure as the Guild President. Maybe this was a parting gift from the Guild President instead. There are wheels within wheels normally in these situations. What’s to be done? “. ( Janaka Ranaweera )

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Latest comments

  • 16

    Why is that there have been problems with Malaysian and Sri Lankan airlines and their flights? The two countries where these 2 airlines operate from have a policy of discriminating minorities and go all out to appoint the members of the majority community to important jobs. They must learn to give at least the life-dependency jobs to the most talented and skilled persons irrespective of their ethnicity. Otherwise the airlines and other vital companies will cease to exist.

    Sri Lankan airlines make huge losses and that too has something to do with racist policies of the establishments.

    • 15

      The problem is that Mahinda Rajapakse, Sajin Vaas and Namal Rajapakse stole two tons of jet fuel while the aircraft was in flight, thus forcing the aircraft to land at Gatwick

      As for the discrimination, by your measure, then all US airlines must regularly be forced to land due to fuel shortages

      • 9


        “The problem is that Mahinda Rajapakse, Sajin Vaas and Namal Rajapakse stole two tons of jet fuel while the aircraft was in flight, thus forcing the aircraft to land at Gatwick “

        Nope, it was the Tamil Diaspora, whom you should be accusing of, not the first family of the past and its hit man.

        • 5

          Native V,

          No, I think you are mistaken. Tamil Diaspora is blameless.

          It HAS to be the Rajapakses and their stooges. After all, in our Yahapalana Utopia, who else could it be ? We won’t even ascribe it to mechanical or software errors.

          The FCID should be called in.

    • 2

      Why is that there have been problems with Malaysian and Sri Lankan airlines and their flights? The two countries where these 2 airlines operate from have a policy of discriminating minorities

      Tamils are not in the cruw. that is the probme ?

      How about Tamilmnadu airlines ?

      Recruit Tamils to the Few planes that Sri lanka runs. Every problem is solved.

      How about 50% of the pilots are Tamils ?

  • 15

    Perhaps the pilot had enough fuel in him and forgot to check the fuel level of the aircraft.

  • 17

    This is not an extra ordinary occurrence and nothing to worry as such.

    All these issues will be sorted out by next year when hopefully new management is in control with a new board of directors.

    Also excess and unproductive staff now amounting to 250 per aircraft will be brought down to around 150 hopefully by new management.

    Loss for Aug 2016 was just under Rs 1 billion and losses are mounting.!!!

    The funny thing is no one is held responsible for losses. Directors, top management, staff are all having a good time!!!

  • 7

    Well done CT, another great scoop with professional insight that could teach the basics to the UL Management and its pilots. Diversions cost any airline very dearly and usually every little step to avoid it taken by any airline.

    The president of the pilots guild has no say in the matter when it comes to extending flight duty time (FDP) it’s the call of the Pilot in Command of that flight in consultation with his crew ! The the president gives instructions from Colombo on what should be done at Gatwick shows it in poor light.

    Scratching backs has been the order of the day at UL !

  • 7

    To be fair this happened in other airline too during the stormy situations. When there and more than 10 aircraft in holding pattern later arrivals can decide to hold or divert

  • 8

    You cannot run an airline on a shoestring budget where you have to cut corners and watch the pennies spent. This is a non-stop flight from Colombo to Heathrow and if the plane did not have spare fuel for 30 minutes flight, what would have happened if the flight had met turbulence or adverse wind conditions mid-flight? An emergency landing anywhere enroute would have cost twice as much as the money saved, besides the danger.

  • 5

    I don’t think the facts presented are that correct. No pilot will take off without going through “precheck procedures” that include fuel requirements as laid down in operation manuals that are approved by the Civil Aviation authorities. Those requirements cannot be compromised at all by the operating flight crew under any circumstances. On approach to land, the communications with the Traffic Controllers are very clear and the guidance given by them are not a “one way street” affair, and those instructions are on record. The pilot would have given the data to the Traffic Controllers and that would reveal if the flight was properly equipped in all respects (including fuel requirements) to meet any emergency. If as stated the aircraft was not given the mandatory fuel requirements, I still feel the pilot in charge would never have taken off from Colombo. I am very reluctant to buy this story.

    • 6


      You have gone completely out of the subject. No commercial
      aircraft takes off without minimum fuel requirement, as per the flight
      plan but this may have been an unusual circumstance where, too many aircrafts were on holding pattern over Heathrow airport and Capt.would have felt that he will run short of contingency fuel when his turn comes to land, hence he diverted to Gatwick, to avoid any calamity.
      Wonder how this became news as this is the procedure to follow and many airlines do such diversions.

      Gatwick airport is only around 40 miles away from Heathrow and passen
      -gers could be transported to Heathrow by train, which runs every
      half an hour. It is inconvenience to the passengers no doubt, but if
      the Capt. took a risk of staying in the air and if ended in a calamity,
      due shortage of fuel,losing so many lives, the Capt. will not be there to answer questions.I do not understand your statement that pilot would
      never have taken off from Colombo,while the weather at destination was
      good ,Aircraft serviceable and mechanically sound and full load of
      passengers on board and enough fuel to reach the destination. I still feel that the Capt. Manathunga took the right decision. Vishvajith,
      (must be a flyer) below, explains it further in shortened form.

      This airline, though mismanaged has a record of no major accidents in
      the air or Ground and no serious pilot errors, ending up in crashes(God forbid)

  • 7

    ok relax, this is a non-issue.
    Happens to other airlines too.
    You are in a holding position and not knowing for how long more, it is prudent to go somewhere else when fuel is running low.

  • 3


    Are you dreaming in ignorance that Tamils are the only talented people
    in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.

    You vultures are a curse not only on on Sri Lanka and in Malaysia but wherever you go.

    • 1


      “Are you dreaming in ignorance that Tamils are the only talented people in Sri Lanka and Malaysia.”

      I did not mention “Tamils” anywhere, ethic minorities in Malaysia are Chinese and Indians whereas in Sri Lanka Tamils and Muslims. So long as people like you live with one-eyed vision in Sri Lanka there is no hope of deliverance from harm or discrimination.

  • 4

    Hats off to Captain and his crew for their decision to fly from Gatwick to Heathrow although their flying time has been lapsed.
    This is the first time that UL flight had a fuel issue I guess.
    Considering the emergency situation of this UL flight , Authorities in Heathrow air traffic control could have easily given clearance for UL flight to land by delaying another flight which is in the queue.
    I’m sure that Srilanka BIA control tower will never hold any flight having a similar issue and they will give preference to the flight having fuel problem and would delay a scheduled landing of another aircraft to accomodate the flight having fuel issue.
    However i am not surprised about this as This is the way ” parra sudda’s are treating Asian countries ”…

    • 0

      Sheran, my conversation with ATC guys in CDG led me to believe that they have been conned by pilots about fuel availability, hence they send them over to an alternate airport. If the aircraft declares an emergency over low fuel and asks to land, then everyone else is sent to a holding position, runways cleared, emergency units alerted and aircraft brought in safely.

      On a similar line, there has been many occasions when ATC has been on go-slow when air travel has been disrupted over Europe, flight cancellations and all that, yet UL was allowed to land and take off at regular times during labor action. The chaps had a soft corner for ‘long distance’ flights as they called them.

  • 10

    The author of the article should not have given this wrong heading,
    frightening future air travellers..Capt.P Manathunga should be compli
    -mented for having taken a correct mathematical decision to divert the aircraft to Gatwick airport, taking no risk of losing lives of the passengers he was carrying. He must be an experienced pilot who knows the conditions at Heathrow airport, where a/cs cluster over this air
    port at times due heavy inbound traffic. An aircraft carries fuel for destination, alternate air port(Gatwick in this case) and contingency fuel in case of ‘holding’ over the destination airport for landing clearance.

    Airlines these days do not carry extra fuel unnecessarily due fuel
    cost and depending on payload. The Capt. would have heard air Traffic
    controllers at Heathrow airport communicating with aircraft in circuit and would have judged from the no. of a/cs on holding pattern, that he would run short of fuel if he stayed circling from the height he was,
    until such time he lands and made the correct decision to divert to Gatwick and averted a disaster,in my opinion.
    Enroute he may also would have lost more fuel due unexpected head winds
    and also if the a/c was heavier than documented and this happens when parliamentarians and airline board members travel, with heavy luggage with unaccounted weight authorised by the Chairman/Board members of the airline and this is marginal but it matters in the event an a/c
    crash investigation and let this be a lesson.The Capt.should call for the correct weight of baggage uplifted on this flight from passenger

    The Sri Lankan management should place on record the excellent decision
    made by the Capt. and he should receive a promotion to encourage efficiency among the pilots and set an example to other pilots.

  • 2

    What the hell has gone wrong with Srilankan? Now its pilots cannot even read the fuel gauge to see if there was enough of fuel or was unable to calculate the amount of fuel required.Or was the man drunk ?What next? Perhaps pilots will be pissing into half used bottles of champagne near the cockpit thinking that they were mobile toilets.What does the Pilots Guild ,that fights tooth and nail to ensure that its members have access to the Buissness Class lounge at the expense and inconvenience of paying passengers , have to say about this potentially fatal miscalculation.They will strike perhaps in his favour.

    What a terrible calamity has overtaken our airline.It started off with so much potential as Airlanka.Now it is down in the dumps.Like with everything in Sri Lanka every thing exists for the individual and individuals do not work in the the larger interests of the organization .Next we could expect some of Chairman Dias” Coffee Bean stuff served on board.Who in his or proper senses would like to fly in this suicide airline even for free?

  • 1

    Amazing to think that SL airlines is in financial trouble. I often fly with them and their flights are normally PACKED. Often overbooked too. Not to mention the rises fares which are becoming ridiculous. So much so that i am thinking of using middleastern airlines in the future, which are cheaper (but have the headache of changing flights)

  • 2

    Dear Friends: If you are interested in commercial aviation and would like to know how a pilot performs in a crisis, please see the film SULLY 2016. You can see this in your home comfort too, by clicking on your computer. Please type “Rainieland” and when you get to the site you will see the SULLY 2016. I invite those who identified the pilot with “Taxi Drivers” to see this film and make your own assessments.

  • 1

    Maybe you commentators did not see this:

    “It is reported that the Airbus A330 – 300 aircraft utilized to operate this flight with registration 4R ALR, though being delivered brand new last year has been experiencing a fuel hiding recurring problem. The faulty glitch is where approximately two tons of fuel mysteriously goes missing in flight.”

    There are operating procedures covering faulty equipment. Assuming these have been followed, there is no problem, however the publishing on line of a recurring problem with the aircraft will affect the reputation of the companies involved. That cannot be recovered.

    A problem occurring in 2012

    “NASA ASRS Report 1018511, June 2012
    An A330 aircraft had fuel quantity indication failures that did not show up as fuel faults in the aircraft condition monitoring system (acms). Only after flight cancellation and repositioning of the aircraft did 2;000 pounds of missing fuel reappear. Technician believes water in the fuel tanks may be a factor.”

  • 0

    Lanka Watch: Please read my comment again. I have disputed the facts in the main article and stand by the normal procedures that are followed by pilots and traffic controls. In fact, I emphasised that there are no compromises in safety aspects and that is the very reason for me to say that the pilots never take off without taking pre flight checks on every aspect that are laid down. I do not know why this has been highlighted in this manner. These are normal procedures and practices that happen in aviation. Of course, unexpected can happen and it is then all get coordinated to save a flight, as shown in “SULLY 2016” film.

    • 0

      Doughy – Thanks. SULLY 2016, which I have not seen yet,is all about an
      aircraft getting disabled due bird strike on the engines and not about fuel shortage or flight in bad weather conditions but the theme was about Capt’s quick and correct decision to divert the a/c to river Hudson,which saved the lives of all the passengers on board.

      In this incident also, we are discussing about the quick and correct decision taken by Capt. Manathunga by diverting the a/c to Gatwick, avoiding a possible disaster. There was nothing wrong with this flight
      on take off from Colombo as he had enough fuel to reach destination,
      the alternate airport and fuel for around 30 mins.to hold over Heathrow
      airport, serviceable a/c and destination/alternate weather would have been good but in an unusual situation, he got caught to traffic conges
      -tion over Heathrow airport due,may be additional delayed aircrafts
      in the air and a quick decision made by Capt, may be in consultation
      with air traffic controllers, decided to divert the aircraft and his
      quick action to avert a possible disaster,is the one we are discussing
      about. He also extended his duty time and of his crew, after flying for 10 hours, to fly the a/c from Gatwick to Heathrow, which gesture, should also be appreciated.
      Manager, flight operations of UL should have given a statement in the
      media to clear any fears people had over this incident, reported in
      the news media.

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