The Airline Pilots Guild of Sri Lanka officially complained to H.M.C. Nimalsiri the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka that the management of SriLankan Airlines is making them operate an unsafe flight pattern which threatens the safety of both their passengers and crew.
The SriLankan Airlines’ Pilots have so far submitted 34 Air/Ground Safety Reports to their Flight/Ground Safety Manager Capt. Keminda Yahampath, highlighting that they all experienced fatigue when operating an all-night flight from Colombo to New Delhi and back.
Fatigue and the risk of flight safety are a physiological state of reduced mental or physical performance due to sleep loss or extended hours of being awake. Fatigue is particularly prevalent among pilots because of a combination due to the unpredictable and long work hour’s, disruption of the body’s circadian rhythm and also the lack of sleep. The disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm and workload significantly increases the chance of pilot error especially during the critical phases of a flight during the takeoff and landing stages.
However describing pilot fatigue and the effects of it, the recently appointed Chairman of the National Air Transportation Safety Board Robert L Sumwalt speaking at a FAA symposium once said “It has been estimated that 4-7% of civil aviation incidents and accidents can be attributed to fatigued pilots. In the last 16 years, fatigue has been associated with 250 fatalities in air carrier accidents.”
Meanwhile Capt. Vithanage then went on to serve his airline’s CEO Suren Ratwatte a stern warning when he wrote “It is our understanding that this flight was commenced, despite the knowledge that it was a complete infringement on both sides of the WOCL of a crew member and that the time of departure should have also been taken into consideration, given the wake up time of such crew, prior to this flight. Therefore, the issue to be considered in this instance is not the block-time, but rather the fatigue implications posed by the current departure and arrival time into CMB”.
Going on to then threaten the CEO Ratwatte, the ALPGSL President Capt. Vithanage then went on to state “as of 4th September 2017, the Airline is in direct violation of not immediately addressing a highlighted matter of flight safety, as required by the SMS, mandated by the CAASL. Further, we believe that you; as the accountable manager, are also in arrant violation of a CAASL guideline issued to the Airline, and any independent audit would also consider this a serious lapse on your part. It is needless to say that should there be any incident/accident, you alone would be held solely accountable for flouting the guidelines of the CAASL and the decisions taken by the FSAG; an integral part of the SMS of the Airline.”
Colombo Telegraph has copies of these letters in its possession.
It is however alarming to note that SriLankan Airlines went on to plan this scheduled flight pattern despite the airline changing similar pilot patterns when operating to Singapore, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in the past.
Meanwhile the management of SriLankan Airlines in their quest to mitigate the fatigue issue on this particular flight pattern, opted by blocking a full fare salable seat in business class, in order to carry an extra pilot on this flight for safety reasons.
Despite the management opting to take this counter measure, pilots of the national carrier still went on to submit 34 Air/Ground Safety Reports raising alarm bells that there is a concern of flight safety that requires immediate attention.
Sources confirmed that a meeting had taken place between the airline’s management headed by CEO Ratwatte and the ALPGSL which was headed by Capt. Ruwan Vithanage yesterday.
However at the conclusion of the meeting CEO Ratwatte had stated that he has to discuss matters with his Board of Directors prior to making any changes to this reported unsafe flight pattern currently adopted by the airline.
Meanwhile a source within the CAASL when contacted by Colombo Telegraph said “It is usually unheard of for such a volume of Air/Ground Safety Reports to be submitted by SriLankan Airlines pilots in such a short period.”
“The management of SriLankan Airlines has got two options to solve this crisis. Either they change the flight timings or even simpler provide the pilots a layover in New Delhi. Cost wise it is not going to have many implications giving them an overnight stay. As it is they are blocking the sale of one Business Class seat and paying flying allowances for the extra safety pilot they are carrying anyway. Blocking of off days for three pilots before and after this flight is also a loss of pilot man days. However the crucial thing that needs to be considered from a safety aspect is the low visibility and fog into Delhi during the upcoming winter season. Diversions due to pilots exceeding flight time duty limitations will also then come in effect,” he went on to say.
Issues such as these if not resolved will certainly also go on to hamper the International Civil Aviation Organization’s audit which is scheduled to be conducted on the CAA of Sri Lanka next year.
As it stands the CAASL has already sought relief in obtaining more time from the ICAO auditors, so that they could get their policies, processors but more over their act together.
Recently SriLankan Airlines failed the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) conducted safety audit, which left a serious black mark on the 38 year old national carrier’s safety record, managed and run by the Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University qualified CEO and Crew Resource Management Specialist Suren Ratwatte. (By Jacqueline Senanayake)