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Sunday, 12 February 2012

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Village youth to be trained as pilots:

SL a regional training hub

Aviation Minister Piyankara Jayaratne said the country’s aviation sector has shown significant improvement when the Government is making a concerted effort to turn Sri Lanka into a regional aviation hub. The Minister told the Sunday Observer that civil aviation has reached international standard due to measures taken by the Government to develop the aviation sector under the Mahinda Chinthana Vision for the Future.

The Minister said when attempts are being made to turn Sri Lanka into a key aviation hub, avenues will be opened for youth to train as pilots. The Ministry has introduced the “Guwansara” educational program which is focused on delivering basic knowledge in aviation, especially for schoolchildren. Students in the GCE Advanced Level classes will be given a knowledge of the aviation sector. After the GCE Advanced Level examination, opportunity will be provided for them to follow an aeronautical engineering degree in Sri Lanka.

Minister Jayaratne said his intention is to provide the opportunity for children to obtain a degree in aeronautical engineering by 2013. After the three-year degree they will be given practical training in association with the Civil Aviation Authority and the Sri Lanka Air Force to produce skilled pilots. He was of the view that youth from the villages will pass out as pilots in the next six years.

The Minister said if the Opposition submits productive proposals to develop Mihin Lanka, he was ready to accept them. Instead of submitting proposals, the Opposition is busy hatching conspiracies and creating unnecessary problems to reverse the country’s forward march. The intention of the Government is to turn Mihin Lanka into a profit-making entity. At present losses incurred by Mihin Lanka has been minimised.

Q: When will Mattala International Airport begin operations? Have international airlines expressed interest in Mattala?

A: We hope to commence operations at the Mattala International Airport by the end of this year. If I take the project plan, nearly 65 percent of the construction work on the airport has already been completed. The construction of 3,500 metre runway is one of the major tasks of this project. But we have been able to complete 90 percent of the construction work of the runway. This 75 metre-wide runway has been designed to handle operations of sophisticated flights such as A380. Two taxiways which are required for this runway will also be constructed. A latest passenger terminal consisting of two aero bridges will also be set up. This terminal will provide facilities to one million passengers annually.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed that the airport should be opened by the end of this year. Because we have to prepare for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting which will be held in Sri Lanka next year. Four leading international airlines such as Emirates, Fly Dubai and Monark have already expressed their willingness to operate at Mattala International Airport. In addition discussions are under way to attract more airlines like Qatar Airways and Air Arabia. SriLankan Airlines and Miihin Lanka will also operate from this airport. Sixty percent of the airport will be reserved for cargo handling, while the balance will be for passengers.

Q: What are the expansion plans for Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

A: The number of tourists visiting Sri Lankan has shown a significant improvement. The passenger capacity of the BIA had been increased by nearly 20 percent last year. The BIA had been able to handle the highest capacity of over six million passengers last year. The passenger handling capacity will be further increased this year.

The Government expects the target of 12 million tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka by 2016. The capacity of BIA is not adequate to cater to such a passenger demand. The Ministry with JICA funds intends to commence the second phase of the BIA development project by mid this year. This project is scheduled to be completed by 2016.

The Ministry has already formulated plans in this regard. Arrangements have been made to construct a pier which consists of 16 aero bridges and eight departure halls. Once this project is completed, the capacity of handling passengers of the BIA would be 12 million. At present the BIA is not sufficient to cater to six million passengers.

We have identified an adjacent land belonging to the BOI and to connect that land with the BIA with a bridge and shifting the duty free shops. Arrangements have also been made to set up a transit hotel equipped with 200 rooms within the premises.

Q: Have more international airlines expressed willingness to come here in the wake of peace and the tourism boom?

A: At present we don’t have enough space at the BIA. Several international airlines have expressed their willingness to come to Sri Lanka. Aeroflot is flying to Sri Lanka now. We have held discussions with British Airways. We have had discussions with several international airlines and they will fly to Sri Lanka shortly. This will be a revenue earner.

Q: Is there a plan to have an open skies policy or will airlines be allowed to come or operate more flights strictly on a bilateral basis?

A: Following bilateral talks held between the Ministry and Qatar Airways last year, they were given permission to have an open skies policy. At present 450 aircraft fly weekly above Sri Lankan skies. Of this 450 aircraft, the challenge before me is to bring at least 100 aircraft to Sri Lanka. This is open to any airline.

Q: With the tourism boom, there is a huge demand for domestic flights. Are you upgrading domestic airports and facilities? Have there been applications by more companies to start domestic flights?

A: We hope to convert the Ratmalana airport into a City Airport. Having considered the growth made by the tourism industry, four domestic airports will be developed. Under the Budget 2012, to develop domestic airports, Rs. 750 million has been allocated to construct domestic airports in Iranamadu, Nuwara Eliya and Kandy.

To further expand domestic flights, it has been proposed to modernise domestic airports in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Hingurakgoda, Sigiriya and Anuradhapura. Initiatives will also be taken to further develop Palali and Ratmalana airports.

The Ministry has also decided to set up a domestic airline so that tourists would be able to travel easily within the country. The Ministry is also exploring the possibility of establishing a new domestic airport in Kandy and expects to commence construction of this airport by March this year.

Meanwhile, there is a growing demand for domestic sea plane service.

Q: Are you working on a new civil aviation policy or bringing in new civil aviation laws?

A: We have already focused attention on this. We have published newspaper advertisements to obtain public views. The new civil aviation policy will be drafted taking into consideration the views of the public and will be presented to Parliament with the approval of Cabinet. The Ministry decided to formulate a civil aviation policy, as existing rules and regulation do not suit modern day needs. The Civil Aviation has attained international standards.

According to an audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation last year to assess the degree of compliance of international standards and requirements in the country, it was revealed that Sri Lanka has 86.5 percent effective implementation of international standards. This has helped Sri Lanka to achieve first place among South Asian States and fourth place out of 34 States in the Asia Pacific Region.

This is an accomplishment as far as the maintenance of aviation safety standards are concerned where only Korea, Singapore and Japan have been able to surpass the performance level attained by Sri Lanka. 2012 would be significant for Sri Lanka as it completes hundred years in the aviation sector.

An airplane was first brought to Sri Lanka by ship on September 12, 1911 during the regime of Governor Brown. In the near future, we hope to celebrate this event on a grand scale. When the Civil Aviation sector completes a hundred years, it has achieved significant development.

Q: There was a report that your Ministry was going to popularise aviation among students and youth. What is the aim of this program?

A: The number of aircraft in the world will increase by 2030. As a result, the number of hours spent by passengers in aircraft will also increase. Therefore, there is a dearth of required resources for the aviation sector.

It has been identified there will be a shortage of 250,000 pilots in the world by 2030. If we take this as an overall figure with other resources such as aircraft engineers, this amount will go up to nearly 400,000 by 2030.

If we take Sri Lanka as an example, even today nearly 50 percent of our pilots are foreigners. The President has instructed us to introduce a program to provide the opportunity for village youth to become pilots. At present there is no opportunity for village children to become pilots. It is restricted to those who come from the upper segment of society. Those who are fabulously rich can go to America, England or Australia to follow an aeronautical engineering degree. But the President wants to change this trend and provide opportunity to village youth to become pilots.

When attempts are being made to turn Sri Lanka into a key aviation hub, priority will be given to Sri Lankan youth to become pilots.

The Ministry has introduced the “Guwansara” educational program which is focused on delivering basic knowledge in aviation to schoolchildren. Those who want more information about the “Guwansara” program can log onto its web site-guwansara.lk. Steps will also be taken to set up Aeronautical Clubs in schools.

Students who are in the G.C.E. Advanced Level classes will be selected and provide with an understanding in the aviation sector. After they complete their G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination, opportunity will be provided to follow an aeronautical engineering degree in Sri Lanka. We have also discussed this matter with Higher Education Minister S.B.Dissanayake as well. My intention is to provide the opportunity for children to follow an aeronautical engineering degree in Sri Lanka by 2013. After they complete their three-year degree, they will be given practical training in association with Civil Aviation Authority and the Sri Lanka Air Force with the intention of producing a good pilot.

We hope pilots will be produced from the villages within the next six years. We also intend to produce all other aviation related resources based on the villages. President has instructed that every possible measures should be taken to produce pilots from the village.

Because if we cater to the international demand of pilots, we should have adequate pilots to fulfil the requirement of our aviation sector as well. The Ministry has also made arrangements to set up an Aviation Academy in Rathmalana by 2013.

Q: There was a report that the Government was considering expanding SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka. Any progress in this regard?

A: Definitely. When President Mahinda Rajapaksa assumed office SriLankan Airlines had only 12 aircraft. At present this aircraft fleet has been increased up to 20. Our target is to expand this aircraft fleet up to 25 this year. SriLankan Airlines operates without being a burden. It is dependent on services rendered to passengers.

I extend my thanks towards the dedication made by the staff of SriLankan Airlines to bring the airline to a high standard. At present Mihin Lanka has two aircraft. We hope to increase the aircraft fleet to five.

Following bilateral discussions held with various States, we have been able to increase frequencies to those countries.

The passenger revenue of SriLankan Airlines which was Rs. 48,360 million in 2010 has increased to Rs. 60,518 million by 2011. Sri LankanAirlines had reduced its Rs. 2,698 million net loss recorded in 2010 to Rs. 381 million last year. Rs. 1,607 million passenger revenue recovered by Mihin Lanka in 2009/2010 has been increased to Rs. 2,981 million in 2010/2011. In addition, the net loss of Mihin Lanka which was Rs. 1,221 million in 2009/2010 has come down to Rs.938 million in 2010/2011. We intend to further increase the revenue of Mihin Lanka by increasing frequencies.

A new aircraft is expected to be added to Mihin Lanka’s aircraft fleet this year. Mihin Lanka intends to commence flights to Sharjah, Calicut, Chennai, Philippines, Bangkok, and Dohar. SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka have agreed to follow the Lodeshare Agreement for frequencies made to several Middle East and Asian destinations as well as all Indian destinations.

Q: Can you outline the plans to make Sri Lanka a regional aviation training hub?

A: Under the “Mahinda Chinthana Vision for the Future”, our objective is to turn Sri Lanka into a key aviation hub in Asia by 2015. Now we are working towards this target.

At present SriLankan Airlines flies to 60 destinations in 33 countries. When attempts are being made to turn Sri Lanka into an aviation hub, it is a pleasure to note that we would have two international airports by the end of 2012.The Mattala International Airport is scheduled to be opened and commence operations by the end of this year. It would help increase passenger and cargo handling.

The Government intends to develop Mattala International Airport as a centre which can provide technical facilities to many airline services to operate in the South Asian region.

Q: Any plans to upgrade Palaly to the level of an international airport?

A: We have not drawn up such plans so far. I think two international airports are sufficient to cater to the present demand. However, we were slow in setting up the second international airport. During the conflict, we had to turn back some aircraft which came to Sri Lanka and they flew into India due to lack of a second international airport in Sri Lanka. However, the establishment of Mattala International Airport would overcome this situation. The Government has emphasised to develop BIA and Mattala International Airport. Steps will be taken to develop domestic airlines.

Q: Various speculations are made on the huge losses incurred by Mihin Lanka. What is the present position of Mihin Lanka? Is there any plan to merge SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka?

A: There is no possibility to merge these two airlines as they have been registered under two different companies. According to the lodeshare Agreement,two airlines cannot operate jointly. I regret to say that whatever good work is done by the Government,the Opposition always criticises it to gain political mileage.

The Opposition does not think of the country and they attempt to take undue political advantage over any issue. When the Opposition raises questions about Mihin Lanka, I respond to them and tell them to make their proposals.

If the Opposition submits productive proposals to develop Mihin Lanka, I am always ready to accept them. Instead of submitting proposals, they attempt to hatch conspiracies and create unnecessary problems to reverse the country’s forward march. The intention of the Government is to turn Mihin Lanka into a profit-making entity.

We have minimised losses incurred by Mihin Lanka. Mihin Lanka is rendering a service without considering profit. The Opposition never asks poor mother or father in the village about facilities provided by Mihin Lanka. Mihin Lanka has given the opportunity to public servants who go on pilgrimage to India and settle payment in 10 instalments. However, Mihin Lanka has been able to reduce losses incurred.

A large number of Opposition Parliamentarians and their families have also flown to several destinations via Mihin Lanka. Is it their hypocrisy that prevents them from appreciating the efficiency and quality of the services provided by Mihin Lanka?

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