--State-owned airline expects to have a healthy profit this year
Nearly 60 pilots have left SriLankan Airlines during the last 12 months and the airline is in the process of recruiting pilots. It has already obtained Government approval to recruit foreign pilots if required, to face the shortage, Chief Executive Officer of SriLankan Airlines, Richard Nuttall said.
The loss-making SriLankan Airlines witnessed a significant departure of pilots in response to recent national economic challenges. The country's sovereign debt default and the government's decision to impose higher taxes prompted some pilots to leave the airline.
These departures have posed a challenge for SriLankan Airlines in maintaining its pilot workforce.
The CEO said the airline requires at least 30 pilots this year, and potentially 50 more by the middle of next year.
“Fortunately, there is a pool of skilled pilots available in Southeast Asia and Northern Europe," he added.
He said the airline has received government approval to hire foreign pilots, should the need arise to address the current shortage.
"It is approved and the package offered to foreign pilots is on par with that of local pilots, with the exception of international standard housing,” he said.
SriLankan Airlines currently operates a vast network of 112 destinations spanning 58 countries. With a fleet of 23 aircraft, SriLankan Airlines has temporarily grounded three of its aircraft for engine repairs. All aircraft in its fleet are leased.
According to the pilot cadre within the airline, SriLankan Airlines currently operates with a team comprising 143 captains, 53 first officers and 26 junior first officers.
Additionally, the airline is actively nurturing its future talent pool, with 14 cadet pilots undergoing training within the organization.
The CEO pointed out that the airline industry is notoriously capital-intensive and has a history of being challenging for governments to operate profitably.
He said turning a profit in the coming years might be slightly more challenging than the present year. However, he expressed optimism that strategic growth initiatives, including expanding the airline's hub, acquiring new aircraft and strengthening the entire network, will create a more resilient and cost-effective operation.
“Carrying over five million passengers annually, highlighting the inevitable challenges that arise in the aviation industry, delays during peak seasons and occasional disruptions due to various factors are common worldwide, and SriLankan Airlines is no exception," he added.
The CEO encouraged a shift in focus from minor issues to the broader understanding of the industry's complexity.
Speaking about privatization and restructuring of SriLankan Airlines, the CEO said privatization represents a significant strategic shift that can potentially inject fresh capital, expertise and efficiency into the airline.
“It doesn't matter whether it's government-owned or whether it's privatised, you need to have a strong national carrier. I'm not going to talk very much about the process itself. The process is in the hands of the government. And as an airline, we don't mind whether we're privatised, we don't mind whether it's facing government hands, as long as we get the support we need to grow this business for the benefits of the region,” he said.
Nuttall highlighted that successful debt restructuring would not only lower the airline's immediate financial stress but also enhance its creditworthiness, making it more attractive to potential private investors during the privatization process.(Darshana Sanjeewa Balasuriya)