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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?