Wednesday, May 22, 2024

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SriLankan Airlines to crash land amidst increasing pilot exodus

SriLankan Airlines is facing dearth of trained and experienced pilots, with 24 already left for foreign jobs and 40 more planning to leave next year putting the national carrier’s revival under pressure.

Most of them hold senior and consultant level positions and have accepted higher pay by foreign airlines. Some of those who have left had paid their bonds before resigning.

At least eight years to train an efficient pilot and sum of Rs 8 million will have to be spent for such purposes.

The national career has to recruit foreign pilots if the exodus of local pilots is continued in this manner, a senior official of the Aviation Ministry said adding that they will have to pay massive salaries pegged to dollar along with luxury houses motor vehicles and other perks.   

In comparison to pre-COVID cadre of 318 pilots, and post-COVID it fell to 265 and the current team has been reduced to 235 with nearly 40 to follow suit in the coming months, informed official sources disclosed. .

At a recent media interaction when queried about the flight of pilots, SriLankan Airlines CEO Richard Nutall admitted that the matter was of concern.

“The number of people leaving is starting to go up. This is something which we are watching very carefully and discussing with the Board and the Ministry as well,” the CEO added.

He implied recruitment freeze in the State sector was a problem too. Sri Lankan has a fleet of 24 of which only 19 are in deployment.

The exodus of pilots was largely fueled by internal issues such as pegging the salaries at an artificially low US Dollar rate of Rs. 225 whereas its real value is Rs. 360-370 level and the 50 percent cut imposed on salaries following Covid19 outbreak.  

The recommendation to revert to a realistic rate as opposed to a negative 60% difference hasn’t yielded a positive reaction from the management.

Its management is yet to agree to restore the pay, and the matter has aggravated due to its refusal to make payments in accordance with the dollar rates.

Pilot trade union members say they have to cover the maximum 100 flight hours per month due to a shortage of personnel.

If another 40 leave, the airline will have to recruit foreign pilots at a much higher pay, further burdening the airline, they warn.

This and the overall lower remuneration along with new higher income tax have prompted UL pilots to opt to seek new careers in competing Middle East airlines which are on a hiring spree.

For example, these airlines are also looking for Captains with first round harnessing First Officers.

The exit by pilots also comes at a time when tourist arrivals are picking up in the current winter season. Last week SriLankan CEO also announced plans to increase frequencies to London, Singapore, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Sydney.

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