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Sri Lankan Airline’s Drunk Pilots & Witch Hunts of Corruption

This article was jointly investigated and written by Tharitha Murage and Buddhi Ranasinghe.

Since the government of Sri Lanka decided to terminate the relationship SriLankan airlines had with Emirates, this company and its management have been in the limelight for a number of controversial issues. The most recent one made global headlines and cost the company over LKR 25 million. (Note. Since SriLankan Airlines  is a loss making state owned entity, the 25 million will at the end come from taxpayers’ pockets).

Unlike every other article on this situation, IntCa will not bash the pilot involved without basis. Rather, as always, we will evaluate the facts and numbers as we try to logically construct an unbiased review of this situation. Clearly that is where mainstream media has failed, at this instance.

The Story

According to our source the pilot in question had stuck to the Civil Aviation Authority (of Sri Lanka) imposed regulation of 8 hours without consumption of alcohol prior to the flight. However the cabin crew had reported that this gentleman was not physically or mentally fit to fly the plane and therefore SriLankan Airlines officials had carried out a breathalyzer test which allegedly claimed the pilot was under influence.

Critical Analysis

Let’s analyse this situation on multiple levels.

Firstly, whilst the CAA has chosen to use the 8 hour limit. A number of airline companies across the globe have chosen to adopt a company policy of 12 hours. The reason for this number is to absolutely ensure that a pilot would be able to flush out any alcohol within their system in 12 hours. Why has the CAA not chosen the 12 hour limit?

Secondly, all breathalyzer tests to be carried out on an aviation holder need to be done with a written approval, as referred to within the “Implementing standards” document by the CAA. However, let’s leave this legal argument aside since the safety of all passengers is without doubt not one which should be compromised. Therefore this article begs to question the CAA on it’s decision for these breathalyzer tests being random. If the CAA is determined in making all its aviation document holders’ safe pilots, why aren’t breathalyzer tests carried out on all pilots BEFORE every flight? A breathalyzer test would take a couple of minutes at the most. Blowing into a tube really isn’t that difficult.

Looking at this scenario under a microscope, there seems to have been a strained relationship between the Captain, who is accused of being inebriated when he reported to duty, and SriLankan Airlines. The possibility of a tale of internal corruption seems more and more likely as we delve deeper into the story. The first signs of animosity within the pilots’ guild emerges when we research into the history of the accused pilot. The pilot had earlier been singled out as a one who wasn’t fit to fly by his colleagues. The man behind this was a Former COO of Sri Lankan Airlines who has a very deep history of corruption as outlined in the Weliamuna Inquiry. Coincidentally, the captain alleged in this scenario has reported to the Weliamuna board a couple of months back that he feared the existence of a corporate witch-hunt within the company.

Digging just below the surface uncovered an article which outlines the embattled Captain was recognized by the FAA (Aviation regulatory body of the USA) for having an excellent safety record, around the same time he was being investigated in Sri Lanka. The result of the investigation was the accused captain was cleared by a board of medical specialists appointed by the DGCA (Directors General of Civil Aviation Asia). This has led to a souring of the relationship between the Captain and the Airplane Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka who recognize themselves as a “registered trade union representing the interests of all pilots involved in airline operations within Sri Lanka and around the world”.

On top of all this, we uncovered that a strikingly similar scenario which has occurred in the past. SriLankan Airlines has had a previous incident, as highlighted in the same article, where a pilot was terminated for a similar incident. The storyline which follows is very peculiar. His incident occurred at Heathrow, London however he managed to get cleared by the UK Aviation Authorities. Later he was not only reinstated but promoted to the post of captain at Mihin Air. All of this was apparently due to the threat of a fundamental rights lawsuit against SriLankan Airlines.

Irresponsibility of Media, Civil Aviation Authority & Sri Lankan Airlines

However it’s the role played by mainstream media that made this situation a lot more interesting, and is indeed one key component which adds logic to the idea of a corporate scandal and witch-hunt.

The first outlier we came across was from the Colombo Telegraph. This article quotes an anonymous source who seems to have detailed knowledge of the happenings of that fateful day. What seems suspicious here is to have such deep knowledge of the situation; it seems like this might have been one of the officers aboard the plane who were also key members of the Airplane Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka. Clearly the fact that the trade union which claims to represent all pilots has had nothing to say throughout this entire firestorm is very fishy. This is perhaps the only time I will compare something with the Government Medical Officers Association and say: As a trade union they stuck by and defended their members during the Kidney racket. They deserve some respect for that.

Additionally it needs to be noted that the embattled Captain’s name was leaked via the above article. It needs to be understood that the investigation into the matter is not complete and by leaking the name of the pilot, it has essentially put him on trial in the court of public opinion. This action could result in a sway in the direction of the investigation since it would be easier for the company to pin the situation onto one employee and chuck him out over making long-term changes for the company.

The second outlier was within multiple articles which claims the pilot was “Visibly Drunk”. Being visibly intoxicated is an extremely subjective matter, as outlined clearly by a Pensylvania state government document. Hence for a media organisation to claim the pilot was visibly drunk is extremely irresponsible and can essentially be classed as slander.

How are the Civil Aviation Authority and Sri Lankan Airlines irresponsible?

Despite a CAA aviation holder being brought into the spotlight, the organisation has not provided the media with any details on the matter. It has rather chosen to play a more shadowy role in the entire media process, thus allowing the slander of one of their own members. On top of this, neither the CAA nor the airline has provided any clear-cut facts on the situation. For starters, all media outlets have slandered the captain for being intoxicated yet provides no Blood Alcohol Value. This is very concerning, especially considering that the airline company in question created a clusterfudge of this situation resulting in the loss of over LKR 25 million from the Sri Lankan taxpayers.

Review of Facts

  1. A history of corruption within the corporate structure of Sri Lankan airlines and strained relations between the captain in question and leading members of the management.
  2. The pilots complaint to the Weliamuna board implying a corporate witch-hunt within SriLankan prior to this event.
  3. Throwing the pilot in question to a court of public opinion via slanderous articles.
  4. Lack of accurate facts from the situation such as the Blood Alcohol Level.
  5. Inaction by the Airplane Pilots’ Guild of Sri Lanka throughout the entire situation.

Clearly something smells extremely off about this situation. Our source claimed that this was a corporate scandal within Sri Lankan airlines target directly at this captain. Now was this the case? We don’t know, however unanswered questions seem to point towards this direction. If this was the case (which we don’t know) the only missing piece of the scandal is: Could the breathalyzer have been spiked?

Although the breathalyzer test has been considered accurate here, there are many factors which can affect its accuracy and it is far from damning evidence. It is considered to be the least accurate method to measure Blood Alcohol Level, with a large margin for inaccuracy due errors in administering the test. A simple example for such error is shown below, with the information cited from a peer reviewed journal article. This chart shows how easily the breathalyzer test can be manipulated with the use of something as simple as hand sanitizer.

Breathalyzer Hand Sanitizer

Image taken from [1]

Conclusion

We will not serve as detective, judge, jury and executioner. Rather as ethical young journalists we have given the reader an insight into this situation through the eyes of the party involved. We have evaluated and analysed multiple facts and presented several questions which have emerged. Where will this story head?

 

[1] Ali, S.S., Wilson, M.P., Castillo, E.M., Witucki, P., Simmons, T.T. and Vilke, G.M., 2013. Common hand sanitizer may distort readings of breathalyzer tests in the absence of acute intoxication. Academic Emergency Medicine,20(2), pp.212-215.

 

Editor’s Disclaimer – The International Cauldron does not vouch for the accuracy of the claims made by the source who reached out to the writers of this article and nor does it see this article as providing evidence for any legal action or claims against anyone or any organisations mentioned in this article. The article is published on an as is basis and is intended to simply provide an alternative perspective to the issue at hand.

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