The Sunday Leader

Sky Cabs Is The Limit For Disgraced DG

  • How a blacklisted airline licence holder was permitted to run an international cargo operation from Sri Lanka

by Nirmala Kannangara

Rescue workers look for victims trapped under the wreckage of Antanov-12 cargo plane that crashed on March 24, 2000. Photo:AFP

Following our exposé  a few weeks ago titled ‘How Civil Aviation May Have Landed Itself In Big Trouble’where the Director General Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) was accused of not taking action against Mihin Lanka for violating international flight regulations which compromised international safety standards, new details have now come to light that he (Director General) had allegedly authorised an illegal wet lease aircraft to run an international cargo operation from Sri Lanka without meeting the mandatory requirements.

CAASL Director General H.M.C. Nimalsiri has come under fire for his alleged failure to adhere to international safety standards, for alleged fraud at the Civil Aviation Authority and for violating the Chicago Convention which could now lead to CAASL and its registered aircraft being blacklisted.

This newspaper is in receipt of documents to substantiate all alleged frauds that had taken place at CAASL under Nimalsiri’s administration which will be exposed in weeks to come. This week we expose how a blacklisted airline licence holder in Sri Lanka was permitted to run an international cargo operation from Sri Lanka without following proper procedures. These alleged frauds are being highlighted by The Sunday Leader with no malice against Nimalsiri, but in standing by the principle of the people’s right to know that CAASL is violating the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) rules and regulations.


Wet lease

Sky Cabs (Pvt.) Limited had made application to start a wet lease international cargo operation from Sri Lanka in late 1999 using an AN-12 Russian made aircraft supposed to have been registered in Russia. Although Sky Cabs was earlier blacklisted by the Airworthiness Division for not being airworthy and their two AN-8 aircraft grounded, Nimalsiri had granted permission to this same blacklisted company to run an international cargo operation from Sri Lanka, accepting forged Certificate of Airworthiness and Certificate of Registration without checking the authenticity of these documents from the registered country which is a compulsory requirement.

At the time this illegal authorisation was made in 1999, Nimalsiri was the Assistant Director Operations and was second in command at the Department of Civil Aviation – now CAASL. It was Nimalsiri’s prime duty to authorise wet lease operations and to sign the Memorandum of Understandings (MoU) on safety oversight functions, only after establishing direct communication with the country of registration of the aircraft, as stipulated by Section 83 of the Chicago Convention. However, Nimalsiri had no direct communication with Federal Air Transport of Russia as the aircraft in question was a Russain aircraft, nor took any steps to verify the authenticity of these documents when he knew very well that the operator in Sri Lanka, Sky Cabs (Pvt.) Limited, had been blacklisted in 1999 by the Civil Aviation Authority for operating non-airworthy aircrafts.

It was only after this particular aircraft, Russian registered Antonov AN-12 RA 11302, crashed at Kadirana in Negombo on March 24, 2000, it came to light how Nimalsiri had hoodwinked even experts of the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) who were in Sri Lanka at the time this illegal permission was granted to Sky Cabs (Pvt,) Ltd.

“As the Head of Operations Division of the then Department of Civil Aviation, Nimalsiri has to take sole responsibility for giving the authorisation to Sky Cabs to operate from Sri Lanka, an aircraft that did not have the Certificate of Airworthiness, Certificate of Registration, Certificate of Insurance, or no objection certificate on wet lease operation issued by the Federal Air Transport of Russia.

In fact, Nimalsiri had gone to the extent of allowing Sky Cabs (Pvt.) Limited to operate this aircraft in March, and it operated until the crash took place although they did not have the route approval from the Civil Aviation for March 2000,” a higher official at CAASL said on condition of anonymity.


Investigation report

“It has also been revealed that the Investigation Report of the Antonov AN-12 crash submitted by Assistant Director Civil Aviation A.W.K. Senaratne on September 19, 2000 had been changed by the Civil Aviation Authority because the report had given detrimental details as to how the Operations Division which was headed by Nimalsiri had accepted the forged photocopies from the wet lease aircraft and had granted Sky Cabs to run an international cargo operation from Sri Lanka.

“The investigation was carried out by one of our former Assistant Directors and submitted to the authority. But when we go through our website, we see that the original report has been changed since it contained details that the Operations Division of the CAASL had not followed the required standard. It is certain that if not for any personal benefit, Nimalsiri would not have given permission to Sky Cabs to operate a Russian wet lease aircraft from Sri Lanka when the CAASL Airworthiness Division grounded two AN-8 Sky Cab aircraft prior to this blunder for not being airworthy and stopped their cargo operations,” sources added.

The sources further said that this situation had become worse after Nimalsiri became the Director General in 2002. He still continues in office even after 14 years. “There are many alleged frauds that Private Pilot Licences (PPL) were given by Nimalsiri to the offspring of politicians during the former regime and that examination papers were leaked out for money.

We are in receipt of all these documents to prove our allegations. We want to expose them, so the people will know that CAASL is ‘offering’ licences for money and to bring it to the notice of the good governance regime, so that immediate action against Nimalsiri will be taken,” the source alleged.

According to sources, at a periodical safety audit on CAASL by the ICAO in 1997, it came to light that CAASL had given permission to two local cargo operators – Sky Cabs (Pvt,) Limited and Expo Aviation, to operate AN-8 aircrafts registered in Liberia in Africa to operate from Sri Lanka on a wet lease. “ICAO during a periodic safety audit on the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) found these Liberian registered aircraft having bogus registrations and ordered the DCA to blacklist them and all Sri Lankan registered aircraft because of the poor safety standard practice followed by the DCA by violating the Chicago Convention. In fear, the DCA got these AN-8 cargo aircraft to transfer their Liberian registration to DCL registry without following the proper procedure,” the sources added.


Violating Chicago Convention

As the DCA has allegedly violated Chicago Convention and was following poor safety standard practices, the ICAO commenced a project in Sri Lanka in 1998 to rectify the shortcomings on which the DCA had to spend Rs. 20 million.

“It is during this time the Airworthiness Division found out that Sky Cabs (Pvt.) Limited aircraft were running with expired spare parts and immediately grounded them and blacklisted the company. As a result, Sky Cabs got these two AN-8 aircraft deregistered from the Sri Lankan registry and flown out of the country. Although Nimalsiri knew about this deregistration and blacklisting, within a few months he once again allowed Sky Cabs Russian ‘registered’ AN- 12 aircraft to operate international cargo from Sri Lanka, once again not following the legal requirements,” the sources alleged.

It is alleged that Nimalsiri had given the approval for this illegal operation for the second time for personal benefit without considering the safety of the crew on board as well as the cargo it was carrying and even the people and their properties on the ground.

According to the sources, the AN-12 aircraft that crashed had been manufactured on October 8, 1968 and was owned by Antey Avia Company, Inzhenernaya Street 644103, Omsk, Russia and had been de-registered and its airworthiness had been removed on October 11, 1999 by FAAR (Federal Air Transport Authority Russia).

“The aircraft was owned by AnteyAvia Company and had been wet leased to Sky Cabs who were once an authorised operator in Sri Lanka. The investigation team found out that a ‘No Objection’ letter had been forwarded to the DCA by FAAR validating the aircraft wet lease agreement. In the agreement, the safety oversight had been retained by the state of registry – FAAR. The Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) issued to AnteyAvia Company by the Russain Federal Aviation had been suspended on March 20, 2000. After the crash, when the investigation team inquired from FAAR about this aircraft, they informed the DCA on July 7, 2000 that the ‘No Objection’ certificate that had been forwarded by AnteyAvia Company through Sky Cabs (Pvt,) Limited had been forged. FAAR also informed the DCA that the registration of the crashed aircraft had been cancelled in October 1999 and that the Certificate of Airworthiness and Certificate of Registration had not been issued to AnteyAvia Company but to Elbrus Aviation Company. These two certificates had been returned to FAAR on the day of deregistration by Elbrus Aviation Company. Later AnteyAvia Company had taken photocopies of these two certificates, forged them in their name and forwarded to DCA,” the sources claimed.


On duty without a break

Meanwhile, according to the investigation report which this newspaper is in possession of, the Captain and the Co-Pilot of the crashed aircraft had been on duty for 34 hours and 10 minutes without having a legal rest period before it crashed at Kadirana. It was revealed that both Captain and Co-Pilot had flown four sectors between Colombo-Bangkok- Colombo, totaling 24 hours and 25 minute flight time during this 34 hours and 10 minute period. It had also been revealed that both Captain and Co-Pilot had done 155 hours and 45 minutes of flight hours during their last 30 days.

“It is illegal for a Captain or a Co-Pilot to fly an aircraft for 24 hours at a stretch. The maximum period they can fly is eight hours within a 24-hour period. In this instance, the Captain and the Co-Pilot together with the other crew on board had been in the aircraft for 34 hours and 10 minutes – including the flying hours and the time taken to load and unload the cargo. According to the report, these two have done 155 hours and 45 minutes during their last 30 days which too was a serious offence. Neither a Captain nor a Co-Pilot can exceed 90 flight hours for 30 days,” the sources added.

Meanwhile, it has also been revealed that this aircraft had taken off from Bangkok on this fateful day with more than the maximum take-off weight.

“According to the flight manual of the aircraft, the maximum take-off weight was 61,000 kg. But the weight of the aircraft at departure from Bangkok was 62,804kg. The fuel on board at departure was 14,981kg and the weight of cargo was 13,428 kg.

Instead of carrying enough fuel to divert the aircraft to an alternate airport in the case if there was an issue at the landing destination, this aircraft had opted to bring more cargo instead of fuel. The aircraft had not complied with the international fuel requirements as per ICAO.

Sky Cabs were looking to gain more revenue by allowing the crew members to fly with less fuel and more cargo. Had Nimalsiri given the authorisation to a legal airline licence holder accepting original documentations, such a crash would never have happened,” the sources claimed.

However, refuting allegations Director General CAASL H.M.C. Nimalsiri said that it was not his responsibility to accept the Certificates of Airworthiness and Registration but the Assistant Director (Airworthiness Division) A.W.K. Senaratne’s. “You are talking about an investigation report done by Senaratne, but it is not the official report.  But I consider the gazette notification as the official report. How can Senaratne state in the report that it was my responsibility to check these documents? It is the Airworthiness Division that has to go through these documents. I was in charge of the Operations Division, and it is I who gave the Air Operation Certificate (AOC) to Sky Cabs. Before issuing the AOC, I went through the originals of Airworthiness and Registration Certificates,” Nimalsiri said. When asked whether he was sure that Certificates of Airworthiness and Registration Certificates were originals as Senaratne Investigation report states that they were all forged documents, Nimlsiri said that he as a responsible officer would know the difference between a forge document and an original document.

“All the certificates that Sky Cabs had submitted were originals, not forged ones. How can Senaratne says that he did the investigation, as he left the Department before the completion of the investigation and compilation of the official final report?” Nimalsiri queried.

Although Nimalsiri vehemently refused to accept that the Airworthiness and Registration Certificates that he accepted were forged documents, the gazette notification to which Nimalsiri referred to as the correct final report, (page 22A of the gazette notification No: 1302/36 of August 2003), clearly states that the aircraft in question did not have a valid Certificates of Airworthiness and Registration and Sky Cabs have produced photocopies of these documents to the Civil Aviation which were forged documents. Meanwhile, the then Assistant Director (Airworthiness Division) A.W.K. Senaratne who conducted the AN-12 crash investigation, when contacted said that he submitted the investigation report to the then DG L. Liyanarachchi and he accepted the same. “After my retirement and that of the then DG’s, Nimalsiri who assumed duties as the DG had changed most parts of my report which were detrimental to him.

How can Nimalsiri say that it was my duty to check the Sky Cabs documents? It was my duty to check the documents related to all Sri Lankan registered aircrafts. But since this AN-12 was a wet lease aircraft, it was Nimalsiri’s duty to check the authenticity of the certificates of such aircrafts. If Nimalsiri does not know the rules and regulations, how can he serve as the DG at CAASL? This itself shows how ‘qualified’ Nimalsiri is to hold that post now. It is up to the Subject Minister to look into credentials of Nimalsiri and decide whether he is competent enough to hold the post,” Senaratne said.


4 Comments for “Sky Cabs Is The Limit For Disgraced DG”

  1. Psycho

    Is opportunity exists lets rob and be merry. We can’t be miserable for moral and ethical reasons. Still we will be a gentleman and get societal recognition once robbing makes us rich. If you are a bloody poor thief, sorry you have to rot in jail.

  2. Boss

    Sad thing is this is merely the handful which has come under the spot light. there’s many more fraud conducted by DGCA along with his co workers specially how they give licenses to flying schools who are being well looked after by these companies. and in my knowledge there were few accident reports that they sugar quoted on behalf of protecting certain individuals faults unfortunately these people are still active in aviation.

  3. Perumal

    You all just wait! Our President is flying all over the world in search of a “good Madu Walige” . When he finds one all the culprits will get their just deserts.

    • jetjockey

      nimalsiri, i an incompetent administrator typical of the individual you have in responsible positions in SL government.

      the entire team at the civil aviation is a bunch of jokers from failed ATC controllers to retired airline pilots that have created there own mafia gangs only to hamper potential investors to this industry.

      we can see what has become of this valuable asset and how it has diminished to pathetic levels starting from the national airline to mihin to the ailing domestic scene.

      he will NOT be replaced as he represents the incompetency that is trickling from the very top starting from the president via the PM and through the subject minister. how to have capable people as they will highlight the buffoons we have in high places…………

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