The Airline Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka (APGSL) last week said that the country’s National carrier SriLankan Airlines needed to get their act together if it was to address the shortfalls within the institution.

President, APGSL, Captain Renuke Senanayake denied claims that the guild had indulged in a campaign in connection with the incident where a pilot was found to be under influence of liquor in Germany recently.
In an interview with Nation he explained the reasons behind guild’s decision to limit their work to their schedule.

Following are excerpts:

Q – There have been issues pertaining to your campaign against the suspension of one of the pilots for allegedly refusing to take a breathalyzer test. Can you explain the situation?
As you know there was an incident earlier in Frankfort where one of our pilots was reported to be under the influence of alcohol. That particular individual was found guilty and has been suspended.

It should also be noted that he did not get caught. He was reported to the company by the co-pilots. We informed the company and the company informed the relevant authority and he was caught even before he could enter the terminal. We subsequently got another crew to handle the flight.

This alcohol procedure was a knee-jerk reaction. Subsequent to that incident, there were measures taken to conduct breathalyzer tests on pilots at the airport. This is not something you could do overnight.

We need the expertise and the equipment for this process. This was in discussion for a long time but was not carried out.
However, one senior pilot had questioned this procedure and had asked who had ordered them to conduct this test.

The security officials had therefore allowed him to go since they were not trained.
The issue here is that the security officials had allowed him to go. If a pilot refuses to be tested then he would be considered guilty. Therefore, he should not be allowed to fly the plane.

But on the other hand, the said officer had not refused to take the test, but had merely questioned the security officials.
The said officer has been suspended on the basis that he had refused the test. It is not so. He merely questioned them, and they let him go, which should not have been the case.
The authorities have asked him to show cause. Our demand is that he be reinstated while the investigation continues.

Q – Has this issue pertaining to carrying out tests been resolved?
Now there is a system in place for the tests. We had requested for the tests to be carried out by professionals. We had extensive discussions with the company and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and have reached a reasonable solution.

Q – You said that the alcohol testing process started only after one of the pilots was caught under the influence of liquor. Wasn’t there a mechanism in place to check this before?
This has been in discussion for a long time. We were in support of the mechanism but we insisted that it be implemented in a proper manner. Equipment was a problem since it was expensive. In fact, the CAA did have a framework which explained what they would do in such situations.
Now the procedure is in place. The only thing is that you need a proper place to do it. This has been a practice internationally. But what people do not realize is that this is only the second time that such an incident had happened. The first one was reported in Britain some time ago. None of them were reported in Sri Lanka.
This procedure depends on the airport and the airlines. Some airlines have frequent checks.

Q – So there is no standard practice to conduct this test in every airport?
The general practices are that these tests are conducted when they are suspicious of a person. If I suspect someone of being under the influence of alcohol, I can report it to the authorities.

Q – However, there have been reports that the pilots are engaging in the said work-to-rule campaign in connection with the first incident which was reported in Frankfort. Is it not true?
Absolutely not. We are not in support of him and we will not defend him. We want to make it clear that we are only in support of the pilot suspended on the second occasion.
At the same time, I would also like to make it clear that what we indulged in is not industrial action.
We have decided to work according to our roster and not take up additional work. We generally work on off days. It is very hard because we are short of 10 to 15% crew required. In addition we will not extend our duty time.
This is not an industrial action. To call it an industrial action, there are equipment plus technical problems.
All these issues should be 100% solved. There is no aircraft which is 100% cleared to fly. If it was a work to rule campaign, we would have demanded that our issues be addressed in its entirety. For example, for a plane to take off, the captain should ensure that it is in perfect condition. We should have the necessary equipment and things like additional fuel before we take off.
But I as a captain can ask for certain issues to be sorted out. They have given a minimum equipment list and I can decide whether it is adequate or not and ask for my demands to be met. We don’t do that.
We only stick to what is mentioned in our roster.

Q – So why is there a problem?
It is because they are finding it difficult. We used to do extra work despite being short staffed. Now we have stopped extra work, they are finding it difficult.
We are not here to disrupt the operation. We are not cooperating with them. It is up to them to figure out what to do.