Looking ahead with SriLankan
When President Mahinda Rajapaksa, at his recent meeting with the
staff of SriLankan Airlines advised them :for a country which has
overcome such significant and burning issues and political challenges,
winning the SriLankan Airlines battle and making it a vibrant and
profitable business venture, should not be an arduous task, provided you
all rally round the management and accept full responsibility of your
duties, he made a very important statement.
The President concluded: "You all should contribute collectively for
the betterment of the enterprise, not only to enhance its profits, but
also to enhance its pride and dignity."
An airline is an emissary of its nation
The thrust of The President's message is in two nuggets of wisdom and
practicality, particularly from an aviation management perspective. The
first is the need to rally round the management. The second is to
enhance profits as well as the pride and dignity of the airline.
Rallying Round the Management
Although the need to support management is a platitude in any
industry, that need is particularly relevant to the air transport
industry. The most important facets of aviation right now, as recognized
by the international aviation community, are safety, security,
sustainability and efficiency.
However, the bottom line remains to be that there is one fundamental
asset of the industry which is the air transport product.
This product services the passenger at 30,000 feet up in the air, a
feat which no other business product can claim.
The airline's moment of truth is therefore when the crews, be it
technical personnel in the cockpit or cabin crew, or airport staff come
into contact with the passenger to deliver the air transport product in
a safe, secure, sustainable and efficient manner.
This what the staff of an airline, from the humble chap in overalls
at the Hangar, to the glamorous captain in the cockpit delivers, and not
what members of senior management do in their board room.
It has been said that, in 2020, there would be no more stressed out
passengers. There will be more routes to choose from and more flights to
Flying will become a customized experience with larger seat pitch,
more leg room, quieter interiors and cleaner cabin air quality. Ninety
nine per cent of aircraft will arrive on time and depart within 15
minutes of the published schedule.
Electronic check-ins will ensure steady passage through the terminal
building and advanced automated baggage handling will ensure that you
will sleep in your pyjamas in the hotel, after landing.
Called the 2020 vision, the above reflects how air transport
professionals personalities see the future.
The main thrust of aviation in the dawn of the 21st Century lies in
the consideration of the abiding moral, if not legal responsibility of
the airline industry to take steps in converting the contract of
carriage from a mere exchange of rights and liabilities to an extended
relationship of give and take between the carrier and the airline
On the one hand, emerging trends of commercial aviation reflect that,
in view of increased competition, airlines have to woo the passenger now
more than any time before, with promises of an enchanted journey. On the
other, the passenger has to conduct himself better while in the custody
of the carrier throughout the journey.
In the new millennium we are in, individual airlines are compelled to
remain competitive, just to survive. They need to flow with the tide of
such commercial trends as privatization, the use of information
technology, removing infrastructure constraints and governmental
restraints and most importantly, changing travel patterns.
These trends have given rise to the new phenomenon in the global
aviation scene that survival (if not success) of airlines is now
dependent not on pricing but on service.
This new phenomenon calls for the airline product to be similar to
one from the entertainment industry, bearing in mind that a passenger
spends 70% of his total travel time in the aircraft on long distance
flights. To counter strong alliances between countries and airlines, the
smaller carriers (as well as the big ones) are now going in more for
glamour and in flight luxury to score on the 70% in flight time.
Personal video screens for every seat, satellite assisted telephone
facilities and teleconference services are some of the luxuries offered.
Indeed, as David Shoenfeld, International Marketing Vice President of
Federal Express once said: If you view your services as flying between
terminals, you miss the point.
The view that marketing is determined from the view of the customer
is becoming more valuable now more than ever before. To survive,
airlines have to build brand recognition. In this context, a the results
of a recent study are some of the best indicators of the key strategic
factors towards achieving passenger satisfaction.
The study used for each airline a PAX/SAT (passenger satisfaction)
index that correlates closely with the major indicators of airline
According to the survey, there are 12 important factors influencing
passenger choice. They are: flight punctuality; excellence of inflight
service; superiority of aircraft; comfortable seats; clean cabin seats
and washrooms; good food and beverages; superior first class; superior
business class; efficient reservations systems; pricing; good check in
service and attractive frequent flyer programmes. At least seven of
these factors are entirely dependent on the quality of the aircraft.
The foremost important factor - punctuality cannot indeed, be
achieved with aged aircraft. The matter becomes more crucial to a
relatively small airline, running a small fleet of aircraft where, if
one aircraft is grounded for reasons of repair or maintenance, the
entire flight schedule of the airline would be in disarray, leading to
delays down the line.
Connecting services would be disrupted and passengers stranded. It is
needless to envisage the effect this catastrophe would have on the
airline's good name. No amount of superior inflight service would atone
for a six hour delay where a connecting passenger has to sit inside an
unknown airport terminal.
It is therefore necessary for any airline to seriously consider
removing one of its most burdensome infrastructural constraints - its
ageing aircraft. The European Commission, in early 2000, issued a
comprehensive consultative document on consumer protection in Air
This later evolved into a policy statement of passenger rights. This
statement introduced a common air transport policy and raised a number
of issues such as the contractual rights of passengers, tariffs, and
comfort and health.
This Statement maps out an inventory of passenger rights containing
the following: Information about Flights and Reservation of Tickets -
any passenger has the right to neutral and accurate information;
Check-in and boarding- European Community rules require that passengers
must receive fair treatment and proper compensation when they are denied
boarding; Liability in Case of an Accident- passengers travelling with
an European Community airline will receive full compensation in the case
of an accident; Data protection- passengers reserving their tickets in
the EC have the right to know what personal details about them are being
stored on the computerized reservation systems; Air Travel as Part of a
Package Holiday- air passengers travelling as part of a package tour or
holiday bought in the EC must receive clear and precise information from
the organizer about their trip.
They also enjoy clear rights concerning the performance of the
contract; Enforcing Passenger Rights- the passenger rights set out above
are laid down either directly in EC law or in national laws which have
been made to implement EC Directives.
Therefore, airlines, travel agents, tour operators and all other
business involved in the provision of air transport services must
In turn, passengers should stand firm in demanding that their rights
are respected and complain when they are not.
Profits, Pride and Dignity
In the air transport industry profit making has been consistently
cyclical, where a period of profit follows a period of loss. However, a
distinct trend in today's industry is that the quality of service is a
determinant of profit, so much so that even low cost carriers who
started without frills are now offering the comforts offered by legacy
SriLankan Airlines, ever since the time of Air Lanka, has not been
short in this area and therefore should not find it difficult to
continue maintaining its record.
The pride and dignity of an airline is another unique feature in this
service industry and is inextricably linked to how the world perceives a
country, its people and its independence. An airline is an emissary of
its nation, a fact which is recognized through the legal requirement of
entry of aircraft in a national registry.
When an aircraft obtains a national character, naturally flowing
corollaries to this right which are implicit are put in place, such as
the right to claim the nationality of the country of registration as
well as protection under international law.
The strongest driver of aeropolitics is national interest. National
interest in airlines is a common factor throughout the world and nations
have zealously guarded and looked after the interests of their national
carriers. Sri Lanka is no exception.
There are various drivers of national interest. Arguably, the
starting point of national interest lies in the commercial interests of
the national carrier whose interests are often protected by the State
the nationality of which the airline bears.
With the exponential growth of the air transport industry, the
significance of national interest in a global industry such as aviation
has grown over the years. More importantly, recognition of national
interests is entrenched in international treaties. This fact is
explicitly reflected in article 6 of the Convention on International
Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago on December 7, 1944.
This provision effectively precludes scheduled international air
services from being operated over or into the territory of a contracting
state, except with the special permission or authorization of that
state, and in accordance with the terms of such permission or
In Sri Lanka, a country with a rich history of trade as the President
has pointed out, national pride in its airline has been a characteristic
of the country ever since commercial aviation took off in the late
Sri Lanka's national interest and pride in its airline is a natural
phenomenon that has been existing in the world since the 1930s as
already mentioned. However that interest should essentially lie in good
Evaluating the quality of governance of a democratically elected
regime should not only be a preoccupation of the public sector but
should also constitute a necessary prerogative of the people being
The most fundamental issue in the evaluation process must inevitably
be whether the public governance reforms of a given regime could be
assessed with performance measurement tools and models.
Traditional modes of evaluation, with which the voter usually goes to
the polls in a democratic environment to select his or her government,
are value for money, efficiency of service delivery and customer
At best, these yardsticks have largely been political and economic
abstractions which have prompted some academics and practitioners to
consider the subject of governance-evaluation as being immeasurable or
too much trouble.
The issue is further aggravated by the fact that there is no
scientifically approved or accepted model to assess the quality of
In the end this transition in SriLankan Airlines, from a carrier with
an alliance to one which is self managed and governed would be judged by
the prudence its management and staff exercised in forging ahead from
the strength it started to greater heights. This is a capacity, as the
President said, which is within the staff of the airline themselves.
The air transport, airport and tourism industries in Sri Lanka offer
tremendous potential for growth and a window of opportunity for the
economic development of the country.
History will decide whether the winds of change dispersed much fog
from the somewhat turbulent ride the airline had, particularly in
difficult times and whether the airline held strong when new clouds
appeared on the horizon, which has been a recurrent characteristic of