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Rats and flight cancellations cripple SriLankan Airlines, as minister issues ultimatum


Several SriLankan Airlines flights at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake were delayed while three flights were grounded this week – one due to a reported sighting of a rat onboard – leaving serious questions over the national carrier’s long term future and a government minister issuing a stark ultimatum.

The airline is yet to disclose the reasons for the latest cancellations, however, the national carrier has been hit with a spate of technical issues in recent weeks 

Based on the airport’s flight leaderboard, SriLankan Airlines (UL) 207 to Abu Dhabi, UL 263 to Dammam, and UL 143 to Mumbai were canceled on Tuesday (27). Meanwhile, UL 470 to Incheon, UL 265 to Riyadh, UL 225 to Dubai and UL 103 to Male was delayed until further notice on the same day.  

Sri Lankan Airlines Chairman Ashok Pathirage revealed that at a rat onboard at least one of the passenger jets led to the aircraft being grounded for three days. He added that if the rodent had damaged any of the wires, it would have posed a safety issue. Just weeks ago, a Sri Lankan Airlines flight from Melbourne,  Australia, that was bound for Colombo was forced to U-turn, following technical difficulties.

The delays and complaints prompted the Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister Nirmal Siripala de Silva to issue an ultimatum to the management at SriLankan airlines stressing the urgent need to improve operational procedures or face permanent grounding.  

The minister faulted the “poor administration” of the management adding that it was the duty of the ground handling administrators to ensure the counters were adequately manned by staffers. 

“We cannot run an airline with such disruptive individuals,” he told the media briefing commenting on an issue where counters at the airline was closed due to a lack of staffers. “Give me a list and sack them immediately. You all need to decide if we are going to maintain this airline or ground it permanently.”

The minister faulted the trade unions as well as the management adding that neither had any interest in keeping this airline afloat. He also expressed concern that these irregularities are a discouraging factor for potential bidders due to ongoing disruptions and workforce attitudes. 

He added that the airline can no longer be maintained by the government and a private investor is compulsory.  He criticized trade unions for disseminating misinformation and failing to deliver on promises made during a recent seminar.

“They recently held a seminar at the BMICH where they said they would find investors on their own. Despite their advocacy, the trade unions have not got any investors or made any revenue for the airline,” he pointed out. 

The minister also commented on the withdrawal of potential bidders for the ailing airliner

“The deadline for the Expressions of Interest (EOIs) is set for 5 March and in the present scenario, according to the information I received some of the bidders want to withdraw. With the negative reputation plaguing the airline, we will not be in a position to offer it free-of-charge even,” 

Meanwhile, the management of the airline in a statement to the media cited earlier delays as being "caused by temporary, unplanned operational conditions at the airport and not due to any type of trade union action".

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