It’s politico flying time again


So it is flying time again for the rich politicians. They fly from place to place conducting ‘whistle stop ‘meetings all over the Island. I am glad they have realised the benefits of using domestic charter aircraft for their political campaigns, as it saves valuable time.

Unfortunately, once these politicians go to parliament they forget about domestic aviation, which helped to put them there. Domestic aviation has a role to play as stated by a World Bank Study in 2016 done on the ‘Development of Domestic Airports – PPP’. There are 16 of them, most of which are looked after by the SLAF at an enormous cost to the public and are totally unproductive.

International aviation has come to a virtual standstill because of the Covid -19 pandemic. There is attrition all round. When this blows over, the Industry must be ready to move in with machines and personnel. It must be bottom heavy with skilled individuals having good attitude, knowledge and experience. Therefore, there is a great need to develop and popularise our own domestic air services. Sadly, at the moment our Domestic Charter Operators are struggling to keep their head above the water. If not for the interest and passion of their owners they will go under and ‘belly up’, as many companies have done in the recent past. Because of the obsession with international aviation, these companies were treated like step children.

Although for years these politicians gained from using domestic air transport to go about their business, this benefit has not trickled down to the travelling public. This is not the case in India. They encourage the travelling public to fly by having two funds called the Viability Gap Fund (VGF) and Connectivity Fund (CF) working simultaneously, to promote Civil Domestic Aviation. The VGF assumed that the flight runs to full capacity, all the time and compensate the domestic carriers for the empty seats they carry. Say, if a nine seat aircraft carries five passengers, they will be compensated for the other four empty seats. Simultaneously, the CF would ‘Cap’ the seat price, making it affordable for the travelling public. After about five years the Domestic Air Operator Companies would be able to stand on their own feet and be sustainable. The operators could have two different rates for foreign tourists and locals. Easy payment terms is another possibility "Fly now and pay later" like in the Air Ceylon days.

. As the Jaffna man said "Time means money" (remember ‘He comes from Jaffna?). Sometimes time is of essence. With the help of ‘multimodal transportation’ (Road and Rail) from the domestic airports the travelling public could reap the same benefits that the rich politicians have been doing for years. Hopefully, the politicians that go to Parliament will spare a thought for the survivability of these aviation companies, and give the new Director General of the Civil Aviation, Capt Themiya Abeywickrema, all their support to resolve this problem and open domestic flying to all and sundry and not only to the rich and famous.  



Aircraft Owners’ and Operators’ Association, Sri Lanka

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