Sri Lankan Airlines had incurred an additional expenditure of $ 90,261 (Rs. 14.5 million) for 128 passengers in January 2014 as a result of the passengers missing their connecting flights due to the then Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe overruling a decision made by a highly trained operations control manager.
Giving evidence before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into irregularities in SriLankan, Sri Lankan Catering and Mihin Lanka, Operations Control Manager of SriLankan Nishantha Handapangoda said that it had been the first time in his 27-year long career that a chairman had interfered in such a manner.
Meanwhile, his fellow Operations Control Manager Dhammika Senanayake, who also testified before the Commission yesterday, revealed that on 25 January 2014 there had been a shortage of two aircrafts due to maintenance issues. Both were to depart from Colombo, one to Maldives and the other to Frankfurt.
“To resolve the situation, I decided to use a plane which was to go to Paris to fly to Frankfurt. I took this decision because there were around 75 passengers that were to come from the flight from Maldives to catch the flight to Paris. If we had delayed the Paris flight, those passengers who were to get delayed could have flown to Paris without a problem,” he said.
However, at this point, Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe had called Senanayake and instructed him to send the Paris flight as scheduled and to delay the flight to Frankfurt.
“I explained to him the rationale behind my decision. Thereafter, I proceeded to inform my direct superior, Captain D. Perera, who said that he would talk to Chairman Wickramasinghe. Then I got another call from Wickramasinghe, who ordered me not to delay the flight to Paris. So, I followed those orders and informed my colleague Nishantha Handapangoda of this as he was to take over the shift after me,” Senanayake said.
Handapangoda then said that he called the SriLankan Manager in Maldives and notified the latter of this decision. The SriLankan Manager in the Maldives had then sent six passengers who had arrived at the airport on an early SriLankan flight to Colombo and an additional 24 passengers on a China Eastern Airline flight to Colombo as well. For this purpose, SriLankan had to spend $ 4,436.
“Then 44 others who came from the delayed flight were accommodated in the flight to Frankfurt. We had to buy tickets for them and another 84 passengers on the flight, who had also missed connecting flights, which cost $ 85,475, so that they could reach their destinations,” Handapangoda said, adding that such an extra cost need not have been incurred had Senanayake’s plan been carried out.