SriLankan pilots protest illegal suspension, not alcohol tests

SriLankan airlines pilots have begun trade union action protesting the suspension of a colleague who challenged flawed breathalyser test and not the decision to reintroduce checks on flight crew, their trade union said Saturday.

The Airline Pilots’ Guild said they will not undertake extra flying hours and also not fill in for absent colleagues as part of their work-to-rule after the management suspended Airbus captain Sujith Jayasekera.

Pilots said the airline had made a huge blunder by issuing a public statement saying Capt Jayasekera was suspended soon after he "refused to take the breathalyser test" and triggered concerns of international regulators.

The airline log showed that although Jayasekera was in theory deemed intoxicated after refusing an alcohol test, he was allowed to operate flight UL 402 from Colombo to Bangkok on August 28.

"I flew that Airbus with 144 passengers to Bangkok," Jayasekera said. "If I had refused the test, they should not have allowed me to fly because they should presume I was drunk according to international aviation regulations."

In another serious security breach, the airline not only allowed Jayasekera to be the captain of the Airbus A320, but did not test his co-pilot and thereby allowed a flight with potentially two drunk pilots.

Captain Jayasekera, who is known to be a teetotaller, had questioned three airline security men about the procedure of testing and pointed out that qualified personnel were not deployed for the job.

Jayasekera was only told that he was suspended after he had flown to Bangkok and on his return leg he flew as a "passenger" and then taken off duty.

Pilots said the airline management would face serious questions from international regulators over the procedure adopted in dealing with a flawed testing and the subsequent action taken against a sober pilot.

SriLankan airlines had begun random tests after a flight from Frankfurt to Colombo was held up last month after its captain, a Sri Lankan national, was found to be drunk and caused millions of rupees in losses to the already loss-making carrier.

He has since been suspended, but the pilots’ guild had not raised any issue over the disciplinary action against him.

However, in the case of Jayasekera, the guild says due process has not been followed and the action so far appeared to be a personal vendetta.

The airline in a statement on Friday that Jayasekera had been randomly chosen for testing.

"As mandated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka, refusal to take a test is tantamount to a positive reading. As per procedure, Capt. Jayasekera was therefore taken off duties and suspended pending an investigation."

Flight logs show that he was not taken off the flight even after the airline thought he was intoxicated.

Jayasekera insisted he never refused the test, but only questioned the procedure and the competence of a retired policeman and soldiers to carry out a crucial test on flying crew.

The latest incident comes at a time when the cash-strapped airline is slashing its routes to European destinations and is looking for an international partner to manage it and inject much needed capital after an accumulated $1-billion loss.

It is also leasing some A330 planes to other airlines in an attempt to raise cash.

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