Pilots’ plight at SriLankan Airlines

16 August 2023 12:04 am – 2      – 2925

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At SriLankan pilots have raised alarm bells regarding a series of issues that have not only impacted job satisfaction, but also potentially compromises on the safety of flights

 

 

In recent times, the skies above SriLankan Airlines, the national carrier of Sri Lanka, have become clouded with concerns expressed by pilots and their union. As the aviation industry continues to deal with the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic, pilots of SriLankan have raised alarm bells about a series of issues that are not only impacting job satisfaction, but also potentially compromises on the safety of flights.

According to the Airline Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka (ALPGSL) a staggering shift of almost 70 pilots to rival airlines underscores the gravity of the situation. An official representing the ALPGSL union said that approximately 12 pilots have submitted resignations and opted to fulfill their obligatory three-month notice periods. Pilots complain that this mass exodus has placed existing pilots under immense pressure, with extended working hours becoming the norm.

 

We are stressed due to heavy workloads. Hiring foreign pilots is not an option for SriLankan due to high costs. As they don’t hire new pilots, the ones who are working now are working around the clock. – An ALPGSL representative 

A closer look

A SriLankan pilot shared a candid insight under the condition of anonymity into the challenges faced by them. “There is nothing being done by the SriLankan management to retain the pilots,” he said. He stated that the upheaval began with the onset of the pandemic, which triggered a wave of pay cuts and the removal of incentives, such as onboard meals. The pilot complained that the impact of these reductions and several other issues caused the departure of numerous experienced colleagues. An ongoing struggle with the management to uphold the terms of initial contracts further escalated tensions. “Amidst these tensions, it is apparent that other airlines lure pilots with more appealing compensation packages, worsening SriLankan’s retention crisis,” he said.

The mandated rest period between flights- which international standards peg at a minimum of 12 hours- is considered critical. Despite these norms, pilots reveal that they often find themselves working relentlessly.
“We are stressed due to heavy workloads. Hiring foreign pilots is not an option for SriLankan due to high costs. As they don’t hire new pilots, the ones who are working now are working around the clock. The management is not open to negotiations. Everything is decided one sided,” the pilot claimed.
Safety concerns

Adding to the already precarious situation are safety concerns that pilots and their union members have flagged. These issues are primarily linked to the practices of the crew scheduling department and have potentially far-reaching consequences. Among the concerns are instances where newly appointed instructors are assigned to operate on the right-hand sear and conduct training without meeting the minimum required instructor hours, a violation of established protocols. The pilots’ union has informed the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) regarding several complaints including incidents where crew members have also reported about incorrect standby periods for cancelled duties and miscalculation of rest periods, leading to disruptions in flight schedules.

 

 

All flights are operated according to the guidelines provided by CAASL which are in line with global standards. CAASL also audits our operation accordingly. – Deepal Perera SriLankan Airlines Spokesperson

 

 

 

Union’s demand change

Amidst these challenges, a clarifying incident in June 2023 involving a delayed flight further highlighted the complexities of airline operations. SriLankan flight UK 470 which was to depart on June 20, 2023 at 2020 hours- with a batch of applicants seeking jobs in Korea- was delayed. The management later sent a clarification citing the flight was delayed after a ‘cockpit crew member’ fell sick and a rested replacement conforming to aviation safety regulation could not be found until the next morning.
“Due to the various regulations for fatigue and safety that govern operating crew, there was no available replacement until the morning of 21 June 2023.
All airlines have delays from time to time.

This is an industry which is highly regulated for safety reasons with strict rules governing flying hours, maintenance checks and under what conditions an aircraft may or may not fly,” the airline said in the statement. The situation escalated to such an extent that the Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva intervened, convening a meeting between union leaders and the airline management. The official, representing the ALPGSL speaking anonymously, recounted the minister’s words, “Just like doctors leave Sri Lanka, you can leave too. Nobody is stopping you.”

 

 

Just like doctors leave Sri Lanka, you can leave too. Nobody is stopping you – Nimal Siripala de Silva Aviation Minister

 

 

 

 

 

‘Fly the Roster’ campaign launched  

In response to these mounting challenges, the pilots have undertaken a campaign, ‘Fly the Roster’. This campaign underscores their determination to adhere strictly to the published roster, refraining from accepting changes or flying on designated off days.“Despite many challenges, we have been very cooperative with the management. We worked extra to cover crew shortages by sacrificing our annual leave and our designated days off. All this time, we were flexible for any changes in our published rosters. However, we realized it is not sustainable. We are now refusing to fly on our off days and also not accepting changes to the published roster. We informed the Head of flight operations about this campaign,” an ALPGSL representative said.

“we do have regular meetings with the pilots union”- deepal perera

The Daily Mirror contacted SriLankan Airlines spokesperson Deepal Perera, to obtain a comprehensive overview of the pilots’ concerns outlined earlier. Mr. Perera’s response was succinct: “All flights are operated according to the guidelines provided by CAASL which are in line with global standards. CAASL also audits our operation accordingly. We can confirm that we do have regular meetings with the pilots union.”


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