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Old 16th May 2009, 06:28
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Join Date: Nov 2008
Location: Sri Lanka
Posts: 28
The sad story of GA in Sri Lanka

In 1950 Ceylon promulgated the Air Navigation Act “ To give effect to certain international conventions relating to Air Navigation and carriage by air, to make provision for the general regulation and control of air navigation and for purposes connected therewith or incidental thereto” This involved the licensing of men, machines and Airlines. Regulations in accordance with international practice were also put in place. The Minister of Transport or Aviation as the case may be, was the sole authority. In section 21 of the Air Navigation Act all power was delegated to the Director of Civil Aviation. “The Minister may for the purpose of Civil Aviation, generally or specially delegate the Director of Civil Aviation any powers (other than powers to make regulations or orders), duties and functions conferred or imposed upon or vested in the Ministry by or under this act”
In accordance with the above, the Minister “owned” the airspace and the Director of Civil Aviation was empowered to act on his behalf. Then in 1954 along came the Air Force Act. There were two specific tasks allocated to the air force by the Governor General. (a) In the defence of Ceylon in the time of war, whether apprehended or (b) For the prevention or suppression of any rebellion, insurrection or other civil disturbance in Ceylon. There was absolutely no conflict in the two acts as the Minister of Transport (or Civil Aviation) was empowered to grant exemptions from the operation of the (Air Navigation) act.

As history reflects things went on smoothly for many years with Civil Aviation and the Royal Ceylon Air Force working with each other with no conflict. The RCyAF was a ceremonial air force. Sometimes during general strikes the airmen worked equipment in the Colombo Harbour. They took part in flood relief. Some times during civil disturbances they flew their noisy Jet Provosts over the city as a show of strength. I remember how the air force put out a fire at Adam’s Peak. During this time some air force pilots were even granted exemptions from the Commercial Pilots’ Licence (CPL) based on an air force rating called the ‘Master Green’. The air force had loaned a D H Chipmunk to the Civil Flying School at Ratmalana. Some of the top instructors of the air force got involved in civil pilot training as well The Hiller the first helicopter acquired by Ceylon and extensively used by Sir John Kotalawala was given to the air force. However in 1968/69 when the Bandaranaike International Airport was opened at Katunayake and Civil Aviation Department‘s Air Traffic Controllers took over operations, there were overtures made to the then Government by the RCyAF to take over the Air Traffic control at BIA. They had been controlling the old Katunayake airport before. Then came the April 1971 JVP Insurgency after which the RCyAF ended up with extra men and equipment. In ‘peace time’, under the leadership of AVM Pathman (Paddy) Mendis the air force got involved in “Heletours” and Air Maldives , activities not strictly in their line of business. Not only that, while the only civil flying training school was struggling to train fledgling pilots with just two airworthy aircraft, the RCyAF using a French line of credit had purchased six Cessna 150 aircraft and four Cessna 337 Skymaster aircraft. These were essentially civil aircraft. The deal was so secretive that even the local agents, De Soysa and Company didn’t know till a handsome commission was reflected in their bank account! Many civil pilots at that time thought that these should have ended up with the Dept of Civil Aviation School. But it was not to be. By the early seventies the granting of exemptions to the air force pilots were stopped by the Director of Civil Aviation and they were required to pass the UK CPL exam like all other civil pilots.
Gradually the ceremonial air force became a fighting force and a force to be reckoned with. After 1977, General aviation (GA) was privatized. The GA companies could not compete with the air force. Bit by bit the air force began to restrict the air space over Sri Lanka to General Aviation operators. This state of affairs killed pleasure flying. This was all done in the name of “Security”. For the gentlemen of the air force, a safe aircraft was an aircraft on ground! The main reason was that both the Civil Aviation Dept and the air force came under the same Ministry, the Ministry of Defence. It was far easier for the Chief of the Air Force to speak directly with the then President (as she was the Commander –in- Chief), than for Director General of Civil Aviation who had to go through a longer chain of command. All the air force commanders over rode the wide powers that the DG of Civil Aviation had, with no legal power what so ever. While the Commander of the SLAF was a pilot, the DG was not. Until recent times, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL) did not have a single pilot in its administration. Therefore any lie or half truth that was communicated to the incumbent President was believed. The sad fact was that even with all these restrictions on General Aviation, when the push came to a shove, the Tigers terrorists had the sky to themselves. Let us not kid ourselves by thinking that the gunners did a good job by shooting down the Tiger aircraft that came over Colombo on the last occasion. Because they were on a suicide mission, the Tiger aircraft were low and slow and thereby compromised their vulnerability. The question remains as to why the enemy could not be intercepted well before they became a threat to humanity? Please don’t get me wrong, the air force has done a wonderful job in carrying out precision bombing of identified ground targets. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of relatively slow moving aerial targets at night because the SLAF lacked the proper equipment and practice. But that is another story.
The Aviation Ministry in coordination with the Ministry of Defence, did try to implement the “Ruhunu open skies” policy to liberalise the operation of GA flying, south of Katukurunda in a clearly defined area both vertically and horizontally. This scheme however is an utter failure due to the sheer incompetence and intransigence of the SLAF. Unrealistic demands were being made from civil operators, in airspace they have no right to administrate. This was partly due to a weak CAASL administration as well.
What is attempted in this short discourse is to show that the air force has been gradually infringing into areas of civil aviation which they are not legally qualified to handle. With the end of the fighting in the north, this writer believes that history will repeat itself in peace time and the air force will drive the last few nails into general aviation’s coffin. Unless we say that enough is enough as the tail should not wag the dog.
Lankaweflyingporak is offline