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Operating Drones in Sri Lankan Airspace



By Capt G A Fernando, MBA

RCyAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA and SriLankan Airlines,
Former Consultant/ Head of Air Operations CAASL.

Aircraft Owners’ and Operators’ Association,
Sri Lanka

We now hear that the Sri Lankan Army has established a ‘Drone Regiment’ with the help of the Sri Lanka Air Force.

Perhaps it is a step in the correct direction to be utilised during war time and priceless for the Artillery to use Drones as spotters under the direct command of the Army, without an intermediary assistance of the Air Force. This has always been a coordination problem and some militaries have lived with it since inception. Perhaps loss of efficiency was the price they paid for it.

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) come in various shapes, sizes and capabilities during war and peace and could be used for many purposes. They can be used to carry out death and destruction in places like Afghanistan, West Bank (Palestine) and Pakistan with the intent of fighting terrorism, remotely controlled from a centre in the USA or Israel. They can be also be used for carrying First Aid equipment and humanitarian cargo to inaccessible places, policing, surveillance, data collecting, aerial photography, agriculture (crop spraying) and scientific research very effectively. Now many companies the world over, are using these for commercial purposes like essential deliveries while the lighter UAV’s are used for recreational activity. Some even could be controlled by a preprogramed computer, without a direct pilot/ operator input. In Sri Lanka, UAV technology could be used to monitor the serviceability status of the many Elephant fences installed, after their requirement for the Covid 19 pandemic blows over

The discussion below is not about the use of ‘Killer Drones’, but a few random thoughts on guidelines for Policing, Surveillance, Humanitarian activities, Data Collecting, Aerial Photography, Agriculture and such peacetime tasks. One thing is certain, while wartime activity of UAV’s due to its covert nature could be ‘exempted’, while all peace time activity must be monitored and controlled by one central regulating organisation such as the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) as UAV operations could have a direct impact on ‘manned’ Civil Aviation operations as well. A few months back a helicopter conducting ‘joy flights’ at Bentota beach had a near miss with a recreational UAV!

With that in mind the CAASL has promulgated an Implementing Standard Number 53 (IS 53) of 2017 which categorises all UAV’s by Weight (Mass) given below


Mass                                          Category of Pilotless aircraft

25 kg or above                                         A

Above 1 kg but below 25 kg                       B

Above 200 g but at or below 1 kg               C

200 g or below                                         D


Yes, there are Video Camera carrying UAV’s much heavier than 25 Kg.  I remember once the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) requested the CAASL permission to fly an UAV as heavy as 450Kg to go whale watching off Mirrissa. I also remember that permission was granted as long as they confined themselves to their declared area of operation and maintained heights below 450 feet. They had to call the Colombo Air Traffic Control at the commencement and end of operations.

Before embarking on UAV operations, according to CAASL ‘IS 53’, it is a requirement that both the operator and the UAV equipment, in Weight Categories A, B, and C be registered. A permanent, non-transferable Identification stamp will be affixed to every machine thus registered. Not only that an operator/ pilot’s competency check needs to be carried out and authorised as ‘fit ‘ in writing by the experts in the CAASL. The IS 53 has a set of guidelines to follow, mainly pertaining to maximum heights, areas of operation and how to coordinate with the local authorities like the Police.

In most countries the UAV’s are restricted to ‘at or below’ a height of 450 feet. Just for the record, 450ft is the magic number above which all obstacles are considered significant for low flying ‘Manned’ aircraft and should have a red light displayed in the night. In Sri Lanka, it is observed that obstacles even at heights of 30 or 40 feet have these red lights displayed perhaps because it comes with the equipment and no one is aware of the law. In the CAASL ‘IS 53’, the maximum height of UAV’s operations is restricted to 150ft. This totally unrealistic. Already, I understand that the Health Ministry uses UAV’s to inspect roof gutters of inaccessible buildings checking for Dengue mosquito larvae. I do not know whether these operators and equipment are registered with the CAASL They may be infringing on the present CAASL restrictions of limiting themselves to 150 ft.

The same will apply to the Air Force and Army UAV’s which comes in all shapes, sizes and capabilities. The question is “Are they strictly following the requirements of ‘IS 53’ of the CAASL or have they been issued with exemptions during peace time?” Like the conundrum created by the SLAF ‘Helitours’ passenger operations. If registered with CAASL, they could be electronically tagged and restricted to 450 ft. or whatever practical limiting (maximum) height of operation that they (CAASL, SLAF and Army) could agree on. They will also have to harmonise the ‘IS 53’ accordingly and increase the limiting maximum height from 150ft. If registered with CAASL the UAV’s area of operation could also be electronically limited by a system called ‘Geofencing’, not to fly within a set distance from Airports and other security sensitive areas like the Parliament without written permission of the Director General CAASL.

UAV’s have been used for spying long before it was used for killing. The GPS equipped, UAV’S with gyrostabilised, high-tech camera equipment pose another problem. Could they preserve the privacy of the general public when they go about their Policing and Surveillance duties? Commercial UAV’s used in developing countries like Rwanda require them to follow roads, in urban areas and prohibit them from taking short cuts across private back gardens to ensure public privacy. Oddly, the CAASL ‘IS 53’ prohibit following roads, railway lines, power lines, unless the written permission of the Director General CAASL is obtained. These issues will have to be resolved, with the intention of harmonisation of guidelines among all concerned.

The present ‘IS 53’ of CAASL restricts operators/ pilots to fly UAV’s within the Visual Line Of Sight (VLOS) only. That is the UAV must be visible to the operator/ pilot or an observer at all times. The newer models of UAV’s today could be operated truly remotely using a display on a smartphone or a tablet, at the operator/pilot’s end, making that guideline too simplistic. Now some UAV’s even have automatic obstacle avoidance systems. UAV’s could monitor cell phones, Radio and TV coverage, thermal imaging and a host of other tasks. Anything mechanical or electronic is subject to failure (sometimes catastrophic).

The IS53 prohibits night flying and UAV speeds are limited to 87 knots (100 mph).

It may be a good idea for the authorities to revisit the CAASL IS 53 and tailor it to be harmonised with the rapid progress of technology and good practices in other countries, encompassing the SLAF, Army, Police and ‘manned’ civil aircraft operations, putting safety first. 

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Strong on vocals



The group Mirage is very much alive, and kicking, as one would say!

Their lineup did undergo a few changes and now they have decided to present themselves as an all male group – operating without a female vocalist.

At the helm is Donald Pieries (drums and vocals), Trevin Joseph (percussion and vocals), Dilipa Deshan (bass and vocals), Toosha Rajarathna (keyboards and vocals), and Sudam Nanayakkara (lead guitar and vocals).

The plus factor, where the new lineup is concerned, is that all five members sing.

However, leader Donald did mention that if it’s a function, where a female vocalist is required, they would then feature a guest performer.

Mirage is a very experience outfit and they now do the Friday night scene at the Irish Pub, in Colombo, as well as private gigs.



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Dichotomy of an urban-suburban New Year



Ushered in by the ‘coo-ee’ of the Koel and the swaying of Erabadu bunches, the Sinhala and Tamil New Year will dawn in the wee hours of April 14. With houses to clean, preparation of sweetmeats and last-minute shopping, times are hectic…. and the streets congested.

It is believed that New Year traditions predated the advent of Buddhism in the 3rd century BC. But Buddhism resulted in a re-interpretation of the existing New Year activities in a Buddhist light. Hinduism has co-existed with Buddhism over millennia and no serious contradiction in New Year rituals are observed among Buddhists and Hindus.

The local New Year is a complex mix of Indigenous, Astrological, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions. Hindu literature provides the New Year with its mythological backdrop. The Prince of Peace called Indradeva is said to descend upon the earth to ensure peace and happiness, in a white carriage wearing on his head a white floral crown seven cubits high. He first plunges, into a sea of milk, breaking earth’s gravity.

The timing of the Sinhala New Year coincides with the New Year celebrations of many traditional calendars of South and Southeast Asia. Astrologically, the New Year begins when the sun moves from the House of Pisces (Meena Rashiya) to the House of Aries (Mesha Rashiya) in the celestial sphere.

The New Year marks the end of the harvest season and spring. Consequently, for farming communities, the traditional New Year doubles as a harvest as well. It also coincides with one of two instances when the sun is directly above Sri Lanka. The month of Bak, which coincides with April, according to the Gregorian calendar, represents prosperity. Astrologers decide the modern day rituals based on auspicious times, which coincides with the transit of the Sun between ‘House of Pisces’ and ‘House of Aries’.

Consequently, the ending of the old year, and the beginning of the new year occur several hours apart, during the time of transit. This period is considered Nonegathe, which roughly translates to ‘neutral period’ or a period in which there are no auspicious times. During the Nonegathe, traditionally, people are encouraged to engage themselves in meritorious and religious activities, refraining from material pursuits. This year the Nonegathe begin at 8.09 pm on Tuesday, April 13, and continues till 8.57 am on 14. New Year dawns at the halfway point of the transit, ushered in bythe sound of fire crackers, to the woe of many a dog and cat of the neighbourhood. Cracker related accidents are a common occurrence during new year celebrations. Environmental and safety concerns aside, lighting crackers remain an integral part of the celebrations throughout Sri Lanka.

This year the Sinhala and Tamil New Year dawns on Wednesday, April 14, at 2.33 am. But ‘spring cleaning’ starts days before the dawn of the new year. Before the new year the floor of houses are washed clean, polished, walls are lime-washed or painted, drapes are washed, dried and rehang. The well of the house is drained either manually or using an electric water pump and would not be used until such time the water is drawn for first transaction. Sweetmeats are prepared, often at homes, although commercialization of the new year has encouraged most urbanites to buy such food items. Shopping is a big part of the new year. Crowds throng to clothing retailers by the thousands. Relatives, specially the kids, are bought clothes as presents.

Bathing for the old year takes place before the dawn of the new year. This year this particular auspicious time falls on April 12, to bathe in the essence of wood apple leaves. Abiding by the relevant auspicious times the hearth and an oil lamp are lit and pot of milk is set to boil upon the hearth. Milk rice, the first meal of the year, is prepared separate. Entering into the first business transaction and partaking of the first meal are also observed according to the given auspicious times. This year, the auspicious time for preparing of meals, milk rice and sweets using mung beans, falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 6.17 am, and is to be carried out dressed in light green, while facing east. Commencement of work, transactions and consumption of the first meal falls on Wednesday, April 14 at 7.41 am, to be observed while wearing light green and facing east.

The first transaction was traditionally done with the well. The woman of the house would draw water from the well and in exchange drop a few pieces of charcoal, flowers, coins, salt and dried chillies into the well, in certain regions a handful of paddy or rice is also thrown in for good measure. But this ritual is also dying out as few urban homes have wells within their premises. This is not a mere ritual and was traditionally carried out with the purification properties of charcoal in mind. The first water is preferably collected into an airtight container, and kept till the dawn of the next new year. It is believed that if the water in the container does not go down it would be a prosperous year. The rituals vary slightly based on the region. However, the essence of the celebrations remains the same.

Anointing of oil is another major ritual of the New Year celebrations. It falls on Saturday, April 17 at 7.16 am, and is done wearing blue, facing south, with nuga leaves placed on the head and Karada leaves at the feet. Oil is to be applied mixed with extracts of Nuga leaves. The auspicious time for setting out for professional occupations falls on Monday, April 19 at 6.39 am, while dressed in white, by consuming a meal of milk rice mixed with ghee, while facing South.

Traditionally, women played Raban during this time, but such practices are slowly being weaned out by urbanization and commercialisation of the New Year. Neighbours are visited with platters of sweetmeats, bananas, Kevum (oil cake) and Kokis (a crispy sweetmeat) usually delivered by children. The dichotomy of the urban and village life is obvious here too, where in the suburbs and the village outdoor celebrations are preferred and the city opts for more private parties.



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New Year games: Integral part of New Year Celebrations



Food, games and rituals make a better part of New Year celebrations. One major perk of Avurudu is the festivals that are organised in each neighbourhood in its celebration. Observing all the rituals, like boiling milk, partaking of the first meal, anointing of oil, setting off to work, are, no doubt exciting, but much looked-forward-to is the local Avurudu Uthsawaya.

Avurudu Krida or New Year games are categorised as indoor and outdoor games. All indoor games are played on the floor and outdoor games played during the Avurudu Uthsava or New Year festival, with the whole neighbourhood taking part. Some of the indoor games are Pancha Dameema, Olinda Keliya and Cadju Dameema. Outdoor games include Kotta pora, Onchili pedeema, Raban geseema, Kana mutti bindeema, Placing the eye on the elephant, Coconut grating competition, Bun-eating competition, Lime-on-spoon race, Kamba adeema (Tug-o-War) and Lissana gaha nageema (climbing the greased pole). And what’s an Avurudhu Uthsava sans an Avurudu Kumari pageant, minus the usual drama that high profile beauty pageants of the day entail, of course.

A salient point of New Year games is that there are no age categories. Although there are games reserved for children such as blowing of balloons, races and soft drinks drinking contests, most other games are not age based.

Kotta pora aka pillow fights are not the kind the average teenagers fight out with their siblings, on plush beds. This is a serious game, wherein players have to balance themselves on a horizontal log in a seated position. With one hand tied behind their back and wielding the pillow with the other, players have to knock the opponent off balance. Whoever knocks the opponent off the log first, wins. The game is usually played over a muddy pit, so the loser goes home with a mud bath.

Climbing the greased pole is fun to watch, but cannot be fun to take part in. A flag is tied to the end of a timber pole-fixed to the ground and greased along the whole length. The objective of the players is to climb the pole, referred to as the ‘tree’, and bring down the flag. Retrieving the flag is never achieved on the first climb. It takes multiple climbers removing some of the grease at a time, so someone could finally retrieve the flag.

Who knew that scraping coconut could be made into an interesting game? During the Avurudu coconut scraping competition, women sit on coconut scraper stools and try to scrape a coconut as fast as possible. The one who finishes first wins. These maybe Avurudu games, but they are taken quite seriously. The grated coconut is inspected for clumps and those with ungrated clumps are disqualified.

Coconut palm weaving is another interesting contest that is exclusive to women. However men are by no means discouraged from entering such contests and, in fact, few men do. Participants are given equally measured coconut fronds and the one who finishes first wins.

Kana Mutti Bindima involves breaking one of many water filled clay pots hung overhead, using a long wooden beam. Placing the eye on the elephant is another game played while blindfolded. An elephant is drawn on a black or white board and the blindfolded person has to spot the eye of the elephant. Another competition involves feeding the partner yoghurt or curd while blindfolded.

The Banis-eating contest involves eating tea buns tied to a string. Contestants run to the buns with their hands tied behind their backs and have to eat buns hanging from a string, on their knees. The one who finishes his or her bun first, wins. Kamba adeema or Tug-o-War pits two teams against each other in a test of strength. Teams pull on opposite ends of a rope, with the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull.

Participants of the lime-on-spoon race have to run a certain distance while balancing a lime on a spoon, with the handle in their mouths. The first person to cross the finish line without dropping the lime wins. The sack race and the three-legged race are equally fun to watch and to take part in. In the sack race, participants get into jute sacks and hop for the finish line. The first one over, wins. In the three-legged race one leg of each pair of participants are tied together and the duo must reach the finish line by synchronising their running, else they would trip over their own feet.

Pancha Dameema is an indoor game played in two groups, using five small shells, a coconut shell and a game board. Olinda is another indoor board game, normally played by two players. The board has nine holes, four beads each. The player who collects the most number of seeds win.

This is the verse sung while playing the game:

“Olinda thibenne koi koi dese,

Olinda thibenne bangali dese…

Genath hadanne koi koi dese,

Genath hadanne Sinhala dese…”

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