SriLankan reaches pinnacle of punctuality | Sunday Observer

SriLankan reaches pinnacle of punctuality

SriLankan Airlines has topped the list of the world’s most punctual airlines in key categories of ‘Global Airlines’ and ‘Major Airlines’ for the month of September 2018, a recent analysis by a renowned flight data services firm showed. According to Flightstats.com, which analyses data of airlines across all continents including the world’s largest and prestigious airlines, an extraordinary 91.37% of SriLankan Airlines’ flights last month were on time.

While the On-Time Performance (OTP) of the island’s flagship carrier has been consistently at higher levels since June 2018 – being placed second in the world ranking in both the months of July and August 2018, the remarkable feat in September was however, the best in the history of SriLankan Airlines. The achievement is seen as a major boost for the beleaguered carrier and its employees whose problems intensified due to constant adverse publicity, which stood in the way of attracting new investors to salvage the carrier from its grave financial doldrums.

Although in a blatant abuse of authority, the former SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe had allegedly diverted flights based on his own ‘whims and fancies’ severely inconveniencing hundreds of passengers, the airline’s new management now speak of a new culture of professionalism and adopting a ‘zero tolerance’ approach on delays.

“We have been making an attempt to address the punctuality issue because it has been one of the sore points in the airline. We are delighted that within a few months we have got to the position where we should ideally be and hope that we can maintain this record in the future,” Chairman of SriLankan Airlines, Ranjit Fernando told The Sunday Observer on Friday.

SriLankan’s exceptional performance comes on the heels of the airline having launched its dynamic new ‘Ready to Fly!’programme at the beginning of September 2018, to enhance customer service by providing increased punctuality levels of its flights around the world. According to the ranking by Flightstats, SriLankan’s punctuality in the ‘Global Airlines’ category stood far ahead of the giant American-carrier Delta Airlines (86.74%) and the Japanese airline ANA (86.61%). In the ‘Major Airlines’ category too, SriLankan was easily ahead of India’s IndiGo (86.92%).

“We aspire to come up on top in all the fields whether its customer service or food where we recently had an issue in the serving of cashew nuts. Going forward, we will focus on improving the experience for all those using the airline,” the Chairman noted.

Sri Lanka’s national air carrier now functions on a lifeline from the Treasury, going from being an award winning carrier, during the management tenure of Emirates prior to 2008, to the loss-making unprofessional mess created after the Rajapaksa Administration ‘nationalised’ SriLankan and put a member of its extended family in charge.

Meanwhile, Director of SriLankan Airlines, Johann Wijesinghe said the achievement augurs well for the airline because OTP is one of the most important factors in judging the overall performance of an airline, both from a passenger perspective as well as the maintenance and integrity of the airline’s level of service and operation.

“It is also important to recognise that there is serious intent by the entire management of the company - going down to the people who are involved at the operational level - to drive these kinds of competencies,” the Director affirmed noting that the two divisions directly responsible for the feat were the engineering and the operations divisions.

“They have done a wonderful job within a short period of time to turnaround fairly dismal performance in terms of punctuality to something of being number one in the world within a very short period,” said Director Wijesinghe.

He added with the new Board in place, there has been an effort to delegate decision making powers and delegate the management team with responsibility. The recent achievement is a testimony to the team standing up to the challenge and performing, he said.

“Some of the changes the Board made in bringing in a new Technical Officer who is responsible for the engineering aspect of the company and the Operation Tech and his team have also contributed immensely to this achievement,” Wijesinghe stressed.

However, the Board member struck a note of caution advising that they should desist from getting too carried away and be focused on sustaining the momentum by delivering an annual performance which will in turn provide the credibility.

“This is certainly a good start but not the end of the road by any means. While a one month’s achievement is only a reflection, the longevity in achieving it on a continuous basis is what will stand out for the airline,” he added.

According to SriLankan Airlines officials, the industry benchmark for punctuality or OTP is 85% and is measured after discounting 15 minutes from the scheduled time of departure. Remaining at the benchmark or even to hover around the 80% range is a tall order, they point out since the root causes for flight delays could be both within and outside the control of the airline.

“While making sure that safety is not compromised, we have a very stringent daily monitoring process for OTP because it is a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) in the airline industry. High OTP also speaks volumes about efficient operational processes that we have put in place,” a senior official of SriLankan Airlines said.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official explained that while high OTP is an attraction for high yield corporate customers, delays, on the other hand,cost substantial amounts of money to airlines. OTP and delay costs have a negative correlation because as OTP improves, the relative delay costs reduce in tandem. “For example, if a SriLankan Airline passenger travelling to USA from Sri Lanka via London is affected by flight delays, it is then likely that the passenger’s flight from London to US will be misconnected.”

“In that situation, SriLankan is responsible to look after the passenger by providing hotel accommodation, transport and food and other essentials and ensuring the person gets the flight to USA.

This means having a high OTP will ultimately save a substantial amount of money for the airline,” the official noted. Although SriLankan Airlines has thus far been lenient on the timing of gate closures, late comers are not welcomed anymore.

“ ‘Ready to Fly’ means SriLankan will resort to timelines vigorously. We are now closing our counters one hour before scheduled departure and the boarding gates are also being closed exactly 20 minutes before the time of departure. So, if a passenger does not arrive on time, the bags are offloaded,” the official said highlighting that the rule is applicable to all including VVIPs.

The official added that although the carrier had so far adopted an industry-wide accepted policy of not explaining flight delays up to three minutes (since the delay was deemed negligible), the management had recently done away with the practice and introduced ‘zero tolerance’ for delays.

“A simple measure to close the gates 20 minutes before departure, a practice by most international airlines, has borne fruit. It shows that with the right people there, it can turnaround,” said Prof. Arjuna P de Silva, another Director of the Airline. 

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