Sri Lanka pilots stage union action over faulty alcohol testing
ECONOMYNEXT – Pilots of Sri Lanka’s national carrier began trade union action on Friday to protest alleged irregularities in administering breathalyser tests after a colleague was found drunk before flying out of Frankfurt.
The Airline Pilots’ Guild said they will not undertake extra flying hours and not fill in for absent colleagues after management suspended Airbus captain Sujith Jayasekera for allegedly refusing an alcohol test at the Colombo international airport.
A spokesman for the pilots said their colleague Jayasekera was willing to be tested only if it was administered by qualified staff, including medical personnel in line with internationally accepted standards.
The airline had begun random tests after a flight from Frankfurt to Colombo was held up last month after its captain, a Sri Lankan national, was found to be drunk and caused millions of rupees in losses to the already loss-making carrier.
He has since been suspended, but the union has not raised any issue over that.
However, in the case of Jayasekera, the guild said management did not follow due process.
His alleged refusal to take a test on the night of August 27 just before operating UL 402 from Colombo to Bangkok was "tantamount to a positive reading," but he was allowed to operate the same flight with a full complement of passengers and crew.
But, the airline had a different take on the incident.
"As per procedure, Capt. Jayasekera was therefore taken off duties and suspended pending an investigation," the airline said in a statement Friday.
However, Jayasekera said he never refused the test, but only questioned the procedure and was nevertheless allowed to fly that night.
"I flew that Airbus with 144 passengers to Bangkok," Jayasekera said. "If I had refused the test, they should not have allowed me to fly because they should presume I am drunk according to international aviation regulations."
He said he was making a point of unprofessional testing.
The airline in a statement said union action by other pilots in solidarity with Jayasekera could cause disruptions to regular services.
The latest incident comes at a time when the cash-strapped airline is slashing its routes to European destinations and is looking for an international partner to manage it and inject much needed capital after an accumulated $1 billion loss.
It is also leasing some A330 planes to other airlines in an attempt to raise cash. (COLOMBO, Sept 9, 2016)