How the national carrier was ruined


With reference to the reply to my opinion written by Rajeewa Jayaweera on 6th June 2018, did he care to look back at our sad track record of our National Airline? I do not blame him as he is from the 'Emirates Generation' and may be unaware of facts only old timers like us remember. Air Ceylon started with a lot of promise, in 1947, using Douglas Commercial 3 (DC3, Dakota) aircraft which were modified C47 military war surplus airplanes and freely available in the market at that time. An estimated 10.700 were available after WWII. There were enough Ceylonese war veterans to fly and maintain them, led by Capt. Peter Fernando who had taken part in the Burma Airlift and Mr Bunny Molamure who was an engineer and pilot. They were not short of engineers and mechanics either. As a next logical step, Air Ceylon had two Lockheed Constellations on order. The Lockheed was a state of the art aircraft which was, pressurised and capable of flying long distances (3,000 miles) at 20,000ft. The 1943 design had been improved at the request of that eccentric millionaire aviator Howard Hughes of TWA, for intercontinental airline operations. Had we gone for those two airplanes, we would have been abreast with the rest of the world. That's what Air India did.

Instead of sticking to the original plan, the government of Ceylon decided to tie up with Australian National Airways (ANA). They operated DC 4 aircraft which were unpressurised, noisy, operating at low altitudes and in short old technology. The technical people of Air Ceylon protested, and stated that the DC4 was only a four engine DC3 and that Air Ceylon didn't need Australians and could go it alone In fact the first all Asian Crew that flew to Australia was in an Air Ceylon. The official reason for Australians were buying into Air Ceylon was to teach the Ceylonese to fly and help expand its services.

The real reason was for the deal was to enable ANA to share a piece of the pie with Qantas Airlines on the London Australia immigrant route which was heavily subsidised by the Australian Government, using Ceylon's bilateral agreements. Air Ceylon was just a means to an end. With that deal, the acquisition of the two Lockheed aircraft were swept under the carpet. No national pilots were taught to fly the DC4s, as promised and the Ceylonese were reduced to flying the DC3s within Ceylon and India. Soon the DC4 aircraft loss their passenger appeal and were rendered obsolete as against the Lockheed Constellation.

ANA pulled out and Air Ceylon shares were bought by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. (Remember JLM and KLM?) They too 'piggybacked' on Ceylon's bilateral agreements. We became a part of the 'Golden Circle' Route. Except for training one or two pilots and a handful of Ground/Flight Engineers and Traffic officers, no real effort was made to train our personnel. The Air Ceylon proper was reduced to a carrier in the Indian subcontinent. BOAC came in after the Dutch pulled out and maintained the same status. In fairness to BOAC, the uneconomical, DH Comet 4 and Vickers VC 10 operations were fulfilling Air Ceylon's international obligations, but no promises of flight crew training were made.

Then came UTA the French airline. A deal put through by Mr Sam Silva. They promised to train a hundred pilots for the national carrier. It could not be achieved because of French Pilot Union objected. How could the UTA management not know of this before? Now why did they get involved with Air Ceylon? They wanted to fly to Australia using our traffic rights. They gave Air Ceylon a guaranteed profit of Rs.12 Million but dumped their oldest DC 8 (4R- ACQ) on Air Ceylon. At the end of the contract it was owned by Air Ceylon. Unfortunately for them (UTA), it was discovered later after signing the agreement that the passenger numbers were meant for a DC4 aircraft capacity and not for a much larger DC8! Besides this bilateral agreement between Ceylon and Australia required an all Ceylonese crew. That put paid to all UTA's ambitions of using Air Ceylon. The fact remains that Air Ceylon always got the 'Gomma end' of the stick. (The bad side of the bargain) and always danced to the tune of their expatriate partners. .We were sucked into bad deals more than once, so shame was on us

To complete the story, 1979 was the advent of Singapore Airlines. A brand new national airline, (Air Lanka) was formed. Singapore too had their problems with one-sided deals with their partners and told their Sri Lankan counterparts that that they, the owners of the airline should call the shots. Looking back now even they moved some of their 'difficult' staff sideways to Air Lanka, so that SIA operations could progress unimpeded. They also used Sri Lanka as a commercial stop to and from the Middle East to Singapore. The concept of 'open skies' did not exist then. When Air Lanka got wise and said 'enough was enough', they (SIA) moved their operations to the Maldives Islands.

The group that negotiated the Emirates deal should have studied our past mistakes and not gone for material gain only. They should also have been aware of examples like how in the USA a few years before, 'Texas Air' bought the Eastern Airlines' Reservations System for a mere $100 Million on paper and then charged an arm and a leg from Eastern Airlines, whom they were managing. (Sounds familiar?) These practises were to be expected from Emirates. They got involved not because they loved us. They too made use of our traffic rights to other countries and reduce us to niche carrier.

Airlines all over the world used fair means and foul to gain unfair advantage over competitors. 'Creative reservations' listing is just another way. Known in the industry as 'Screen Science', it is fine tuned to either supress or enhance pricing data to the advantage of certain cash rich, influential carriers. If Rajeewa says that the Global Display Systems don't display carriers in alphabetical order, then I stand corrected. Please note that British Airways, KLM, Emirates and all the other airlines mentioned are no saints. The Civil Aviation Authorities all over the world are expected by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) to monitor their commercial activities. So does IATA. In fact some of these airlines are paying hefty fines, (without protest) for conducting unethical/ unacceptable practices. I wonder if Rajeewa can explain how all Middle Eastern carriers flying three times a day out of BIA are running full while a once a day SriLankan Airline flight to the same destination is not. How come Sri Lankan national sport teams for international overseas games patronise foreign carriers without travelling their own national carrier? Is their medicine stronger than ours?

The reason for name change is such a lame one. The name Air Lanka was well known. So was the stylised peacock logo. They were in existence for over 20 years. Was there any need to rebrand the product? It was a very costly exercise. Where did the money go? Have a look at the other airline logos. SriLankan logo is the only one that has the 'bird' moving backwards! If it was a 'Marketing' decision, whose marketing department made that decision? Air Lanka or Emirates. Who benefited mostly from that exercise? The objectionable two letter code, UL (Usually Late) still remains allocated to SriLankan Airlines by IATA (International Air Transport Association). So it was an expensive, half-hearted farce.

Colombo/London sector was indeed a problem for the A330- 200 aircraft, in the winter months. Flights had to be carried out using fuel management procedures with re-dispatch flight planning from overhead a nominated airport 90% of the way, like Vienna Austria and then burning up the reserve fuel during the last hour of the flight to the final destination, London Heathrow. The A330-200s were certainly forced down Air Lanka's throat.

Lastly, my reference about money changing hands in the Middle East referred to the destruction of the A330 aircraft to the required proportion on the apron of BIA by the LTTE, on that fateful day in June 2001. There was an extra Balaclava face mask found in the vicinity. They couldn't find the owner. Was he/she an insider? After the attack, who went laughing all the way to the bank? Who had to pay more in terms of extra insurance cover?

Read all about it under "Scuttling of ships and Insurance scams' on the internet. Usually, 'Rust Buckets (old Ships) are destroyed by setting fire to them at a port with inadequate fire fighting facilities. The insurance companies know that it is a scam, but still pay up as the rich owners will buy more ships that will bring in more business!

It is a mercenary world we live in.


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