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Operating to Jeddah in modern times

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By Capt. G A Fernando,
RCyAF/ SLAF, Air Ceylon,
Air Lanka, Singapore Airlines and SriLankan Airlines

This has reference to Capt. Elmo Jayawardene’s and Mr Lionel Sirimanne’s (Uncle ‘Siri’ to most of us) articles regarding flights to Jeddah many moons ago with multiple night stops in the Douglas DC3 Dakota’s. Right at its inception in 1979, Air Lanka didn’t operate to or even in Saudi Arabian Air space. The two Boeing 707s plying between the Middle East and Europe used the more northern routes through Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan and Syria till the advent of the Iran-Iraq war. Then airlines were forced to stay south and fly westward across the Saudi Arabian Dessert and then go northwards from Hail. It was then that our pilots had to speak with Jeddah Control, whose radio coverage was mediocre at best and thus taxing their patience.

Today, the modern, ‘state of the art’ jet planes are capable of flying nonstop to Jeddah with no intermediate stops. Before they leave the ground, the pilots pre-programme their on-board computers on ground and they determine an imaginary ‘Green Line’ in the Airbuses or a ‘Magenta Line’ in the Boeings defining their proposed route. The displays provide them with a host of information. Amongst other things, how to proceed to their destination. They just follow that line in their navigation displays. Some say that the pilots have become aircraft operators and ‘children’ of that ‘computer generated line’. It has made flying more accurate.

Our fights to ‘Jiddah’ (as some Sri Lankans would say) were associated with carrying fare-paying pilgrims to Mecca. Our timing had to be perfect during the ‘Haj’ due to build-up of air traffic through the years. Miss-timing our arrivals at the ‘Haj Terminal’ involved heavy fines for the airline as the Terminal building could accommodate a limited number of aircraft. By Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) standards it was still a relatively very large amount.

When approaching Jeddah, usually the leader of the group (Nade Gura) will ask the flight crew for the ‘Miquat Point’. This is the point at which the pilgrims should prepare themselves mentally and physically for the task at hand. It was marked in our Aviation route maps with a little triangle. The Captains would also allow them the use of the on board Public Address system to conduct their prayers. Being capable of direct flight, the airlines would fly across the Arabian sea of the Indian Ocean to Oman and then the Saudi Arabian desert, over many wheat farms tracing circular patterns of green. Not many know that at one time (1995) Saudi Arabia was almost self-sufficient in Wheat. The policy has changed since, as the circular, US style irrigation systems in the desert were depleting precious ground water.

Since the direct flight times from Colombo were relatively short, the crews were allowed to do a turnaround flights in accordance with the flight duty time limitations with an extra Captain on board on board providing relief and get back to Colombo.

 

Flights from Singapore were longer and necessitated a night stop for the inbound crew. The off season frequency was once a week. As a result we had to stay one whole week in Jeddah. Since there was not much to do and the Five Star Hotel we ‘slipped’ in, had provided a crew room with cooking facilities, the crew would organise a shopping/ marketing party on the morning of the night after our arrival to buy food for the next six days. It was compulsory that all females wear an Abaya (a black garb provided by the hotel) over their clothes, when in public. One day, we met at the reception to go shopping, I noticed that some of the girls were wearing their short, shorts that could have normally been worn in Singapore under the Abaya. As some of them were on their first visit ever to Jeddah, being their Captain and the most senior member I had to advised them to exercise some decorum and change to a more acceptable dress as the Abaya’s didn’t cover up all their sins, especially on a windy day. Another time my Australian First Officer came down for the same exercise in a pair of shorts, showing off his knobby knees and that too did not seem like a good idea to me. So he was forced to do a quick change.

The girls (and boys) would cook every day and call the rest of us for Brunch and Dinner. Our allowances were based on the Hotel Coffee Shop Menu prices. This exercise would, after defraying the costs (deserts and all), came to a fraction of the Coffee shop prices thus providing home cooking, interesting company and a substantial saving for all. Only mad dogs and Englishmen went out in the midday sun!

After one of these flight patterns, we took off one night in an Airbus A340-300 aircraft, from Jeddah to Singapore. Immediately after take-off, the standard operation procedure required us to select the wheels up, to reduce aerodynamic drag. We’ve been doing this for over a thousand times. This time, however, with an accompanying ‘ting’ a message came up on the computer display unit to say that the landing gear doors were not properly closed and as a result that there would be additional fuel burn and our destination, Singapore could not be reached. We then recycled the Landing Gear down and up, to see whether the situation would clear itself. The message remained the same. The most appropriate thing to do was to return to base (RTB).

Then another consideration had to be made regarding our operation. Our landing weight exceeding the maximum limiting landing weight. We were carrying fuel all the way to Singapore and therefore needed to get rid of some fuel to lighten our load. This process is known as ‘fuel dumping’. We could land above the Maximum Landing weight, in the event of an emergency, where time was of essence but will entail some mandatory checks on the gear after landing, to see whether we have broken anything or not.

We were in no hurry and besides dumping was the safer option, so we asked the control tower for an area (away from humanity) above which we could dump our extra fuel. If the aircraft flies high enough, the fuel ‘atomises’ into a fine mist. We were also not allowed to circle, when dumping fuel as it always possible for the jet engines to ingest the unburnt fuel. We were directed over the Jeddah harbour and instructed to fly outbound on a given heading over the Red Sea and then track inbound. So we flew outbound till the required load was reduced to half and then turned inbound to dump the other half. We were at the required weight when we were back over the harbour and then landed without any further incident. After shutting down engines, at the parking stand, we found the nose wheel doors, slowly dropped open and didn’t stay locked up. The engineers couldn’t rectify the problem immediately and we had to spend another night in Jeddah. The high point was that there were 220 ice creams on board that had to be consumed. The air crew and ground crew had many ice creams as they wished!

Back with SriLankan Airlines, I did many turnaround flights to Jeddah. My last flight to Jeddah was to ferry an empty Airbus A330 aircraft from London Heathrow. We flew eastwards to Zurich and then southwards to Rome and further south past Brindisi, in southern Italy and the Greek Islands, across the Mediterranean Sea  to overhead the port of Alexandrea, Followed the Nile (and the Green Line) to Cairo and then across the Red Sea to Jeddah. Since we had no fare-paying passengers, except for a dead heading (flying as passengers) crew. They had organised a party (loud music and all) in the First Class section on board while my First Officer and I flew the A330 to Jeddah it certainly was lonely at the ‘pointy end’, beyond the bullet (and sound) proof Flight Deck door and had only the stars in the night sky to keep us company.

Party or no party, watching the sights of northern France, the Swiss Alps and the Matterhorn in the dusk, Roma, Italy, Greek Islands, Mediterranean Sea, port of Alexandria, Egypt and the lights in the settlements of the Nile delta and the Aswan Dam, from 40,000 feet, all in ‘one go’, as advertised in our Flight Plan, made our day. Since the station staff had put us up in a resort by the Red Sea, the next day we were able to have a ‘dip’ in the sea, before heading for home a day later.

Yes, ‘Aviation’ has changed quite a lot from the fifties. Now, with the advent of the Covid-19, let us brace ourselves for further changes which may not be anything like what we have experienced before.

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Features

Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation

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By Jehan Perera

Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.

Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.

Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”

Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.

 

 

NEGATIVE RESPONSE

 

The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”

It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.

International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.

 

 

SEQUENTIAL IMPLEMENATION

 

In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”

As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.

The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.

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Features

Album to celebrate 30 years

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Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.

However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.

All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.

Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.

Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.

Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.

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Features

LET’S DO IT … in the new normal

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The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)

Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.

But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.

Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.

Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.

However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.

And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.

Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.

“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”

The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.

“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”

Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.

In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.

Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.

Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!

Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.

 

 

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