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Ratmalana airport’s operations and unplanned development

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Wellington Airport, New Zealand, Control Tower, in a shopping Mall
 

By Capt G A Fernando MBA
gafplane@sltnet.lk
President, Aircraft Owners and Operators Association
RCyAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA, SriLankan Airlines

In 1934 the State Council of Ceylon decided that an airport with easy access to Colombo was a necessity and declared that Ratmalana was the best site available. Accordingly an airfield was built and the first landing took place on 27 November 1935. This was Ceylon’s first Airfield. With the advent of WW II, the airport expanded and a runway was also built. The Royal Air Force (RAF) and the Fleet Air Arm used it.

To assist aircraft landing in bad weather and resulting bad visibility, a transmitter was built at Thalangama to generate a Radio Signal Beam directed along the extended centre line of the runway at Ratmalana. If the aircraft was tracking the correct path, the pilots would hear a continuous tone on their head sets. However if they were left of the desired track, the pilots would hear a letter ‘A’ in Morse code (dit dah) or if right, a letter ‘N’ which was a (dah dit) in Morse. The objective was to hear a continuous signal in the ears, which guided them towards Ratmalana. The decent to lower altitude was at the pilot’s discretion.

As time went by, there was a low frequency, Non Directional Radio Beacon (NDB) placed in the vicinity of the airport (Attidiya) and used with an Automatic Direction Finder (ADF) on board the aircraft. A needle over a compass dial pointed to Attidiya and gave directional guidance to international air traffic. Although it could accommodate an unlimited number of aircraft, when they needed it most like during thunderstorms activity, there was static interference and the needles pointed towards the thunderstorms instead of Attidiya. So a Very High Frequency Omni Directional Radio Range known as a ‘VOR’ for short was installed for more accuracy.

Then in 1968, Ratmalana International Airport lost its ‘International’ status when the Bandaranaike International Airport opened and all international operations moved to Katunayake. The equipment at the airport was allowed to deteriorate. The Radio Navigational let down aids ran down. There was no proper Control Tower. Even the runway lights were not working and night flights had to depend on Kerosene Lamps. One redeeming grace, in the night, in those days, was that the Sapugaskanda Oil Refinery was in full production and the giant flare of the burning gasses was the guiding light to the Ratmalana Airport. The Pilots spotted the flare from far away and flew over the Refinery and then turned on the runway heading and could see the runway edge kerosene flares, flickering dimly in a dark patch that was the Ratmalana airport! The civil training aircraft of the Government Flying School of those days had neither radios nor any radio aids to navigation.

Post 1977, after the ‘Dharmista’ Government created another problem for Ratmalana operations. The authorities decided to build a new Capital in Sri Jayewardenepura, Kotte, and also move the New Parliament to that neck of the woods. Unfortunately, the Parliament was just 3.6 Nautical Miles from the end of the Ratmalana runway ‘as the crow flies’ and less than 1NM from the Thalangama Transmitters. In most countries overflying the Parliament is prohibited. Therefore the Authorities blindly decreed the same in Sri Lanka. Thus restricting the freedom of aircraft movements to the Ratmalana Runway and preventing safer, conventional landing approaches. It must be noted that Air Ceylon and other domestic flights were still using Ratmalana. Many professionals were quick to observe that it was akin to someone building a house near a railway line and then complaining that it was too noisy and requiring the railway to divert!

Everyone had learnt to live with the non-availability of precision Navigational aids at Ratmalana. Thalangama Transmitters lost its significance. The Urban Development Authority (UDA) eventually, took vacant procession and the SL Army (Gemunu watch) established a camp there.  During December, with clear nights and cooler mornings, (Temperature inversions) combined with the North Easterly winds blowing smoke from the Sapugaskanda Refinery, the visibility on the final approach tends to get very bad at the Ratmalana airport.

In fact, on the morning of 14 December 2014, a SLAF Antonov AN 32, ferry flight from Katunayake, attempted to approach for landing at Ratmalana and crashed killing the crew. This prompted the then Air Force Commander to write to the then Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to reinstall Navigational Facilities (See Letter below). Now almost five years have gone by and at last the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL) is slowly waking up to the fact that not only the seen but also the unseen facilities at Ratmalana should be brought up to standard in the name of air safety. Wide publicity is given to the fact that the Government’s intention is to make Ratmalana an International Business aircraft hub and regain its lost glory. 

While this concept is being actively pursued by the Airport and Aviation Sri Lanka Ltd (AASL) and the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), another security sensitive building has been erected in the vacant land at Thalangama, barely 1 NM from the Parliament and 4.4 NM from the runway end. That being the Akuregoda Military Headquarters. This has created an effective barrier for operation of legitimate air traffic. As a direct result more restrictions are bound to be imposed on inbound air traffic. Furthermore, it does seem like that there was no ‘master plan’ and the left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing.

Air safety dictates that jet planes should have at least an eight mile straight in (no turns) final approach. Now it is not possible to do that with the unplanned sensitive buildings on the final approach to Ratmalana. Ideally, like in other countries, all three parties, the Local Municipality Town Planer, the Civil Aviation Authority/ Airport and Aviation Ltd (CAASL/ AASL), and the Building developer, must make these long term decisions. In Australia for instance the CAA’ Airports Authority has control of manmade obstacles for a radius of 25 miles. Unplanned buildings, called ‘man made relief’ as against ‘Geographic Relief’ (terrain) has spoilt the feasibility of the intended City Airport. Another case in point is the Kotalawala Defence University (K DU). Which is the tallest building in the vicinity of the airport that should never have been allowed to be built that high. This seems to be the malady this whole country is suffering from. The people in the know are afraid to speak. Subsequently, no one is held accountable for these poor, uncoordinated decisions. The true professionals are not consulted. As a result vision is ‘tunnelled’. The Sinhala saying “Leda malath, bada suddai” seems to be very appropriate. (Although the patient died, the bowels were clean!)  

It is believed that accommodating Business Jets inbound to Ratmalana airport will be a money spinner and a step in the correct direction. There is no point in crying over spilt milk one would say. What is done is done. I write to offer a practical solution.to mitigate the adverse effects of unplanned buildings. While the Military Base is working 24/7 (around the clock) and overflying prohibition may be justified, the Parliament ‘works’ only on certain days and for limited hours. The Authorities should provisionally allow air traffic, inbound to Ratmalana to overfly the Parliament on days and times that there are no sittings. A Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) could be issued as and when necessary. In other words let’s share the airspace for the benefit of all, without attempting to kill the goose that may lay the golden egg. Then longer and therefore safer approaches could be designed to facilitate these small but fast Business Jets which will be operating in and out of the Ratmalana Airport.

The Ratmalana Airport lacks a proper Control Tower with a 360 degree visibility of the area. A new Control Tower could be sited in the highest point in the vicinity. Perhaps at KDU to mitigate the hopeless situation. The Wellington, New Zealand Control Tower is on top of a Shopping Mall!

To put this in the correct perspective, according to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) USA, research shows that light training aircraft and other small aircraft of the size and mass of business jets cannot create catastrophic destruction to strong buildings like our Parliament or the Military Base, like what happened on 9/11 with large passenger jets. Some even say that the Pentagon was damaged by a missile and not a passenger aircraft. But that’s another story.



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Features

Credibility in governance through elections and not security forces

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Ranil Wickremesinghe

By Jehan Perera

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s warning that he is prepared to declare a state of national emergency and use the military to suppress any public protests for change of government would reflect the pressures he is under. The manner in which he has used the security forces to deal with the protest movement has been unexpected. His words and deeds are contradictory to what he has previously stood for as a five-time former prime minister. This is especially true in the case of the ethnic and religious minorities who have consistently voted for him and his party at elections. They have felt safer and more secure under his governments which always sought to reduce the heavy hand of state oppression in which national security is given pride of place. He has always promised them much though he has been unable to deliver on much of what he promised.

Notwithstanding the unfortunate rhetoric and actions of the present time the belief still persists that President Wickremesinghe is the best of the available options. Recent pronouncements of the president have reignited hope that he will address the problems of the religious and ethnic minorities. He has stated that he does not want to leave this problem to the next generation. He has said that he wants to resolve this intractable national problem by the country’s 75th independence anniversary on February 4 next year. The hope that the president will make a fresh effort to resolve their problems has led the main Tamil party, the TNA, to desist from voting against the budget which passed with a relatively small majority. Their spokesperson, M A Sumanthiran said in Parliament that due to the president reaching out to them, stretching out his hand, they did not vote against the budget although they disagreed with it.

It is not only in words that the president has reached out to the ethnic and religious minorities. Reports from the north and east indicate that the Maveer (Heroes) Day commemorations this year took place without incident. During the past two years scores of people were arrested and a massive presence of security forces blocked the people from participating in public events. On this occasion the security forces did not get involved in any attempt to stop the commemorations. University students distributed sweets and even cut a birthday cake to celebrate slain LTTE leader Velupillai Prabhakaran’s birthday. The analogy that the president drew to himself being seen as a Hitler who exterminated ethnic and religious minorities is misplaced. The release of those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for engaging in similar acts in the past would further contribute to the reconciliation process.

WORSENING CRISIS

In this context, the president’s use of militaristic rhetoric can only be understood in relation to the growing economic crisis that shows no sign of abating. The anticipated IMF bailout package is at risk of getting indefinitely delayed. It was initially anticipated to come in September then in November but now January is being targeted. Japan’s top brokerage and investment bank, Nomura Holdings Inc, has warned that seven countries – Egypt, Romania, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Czech Republic, Pakistan and Hungary – are now at a high risk of currency crises. Sri Lanka is in third place on the table of risk. The next devaluation of the rupee could see another spike in inflation that will make the cost of living even more unbearable to the masses of people.

The president is on record as having said that the economic crisis will get worse before it improves. Both anecdotal and statistical evidence indicates that it is indeed worsening. University teachers at the University of Sabaragamuwa reported that attendance in their classes was down by at least a quarter. Students who come from other parts of the country are unable to afford the cost of meals and so they stay at home. A study by the Institute of Policy Studies has shown that about four percent of primary, 20 percent of secondary and 26 percent of collegiate students had dropped out of school in the estate sector, which is the worst affected. The future costs to the country of a less well educated population is incalculable and inhumane.

As it is the situation is a dire one for large swathes of the population. Research from the University of Peradeniya has revealed that close to half of Sri Lanka’s population, 42 percent (up from 14 percent in 2019) are living under the poverty line. Professor of Economics Wasantha Athukorala has said there is a dramatic increase in the poverty level of over three-hold across the past three years. In 2019, nearly 3 million people lived below the poverty line, but that number has increased to 9.6 million in October 2022. In these adverse circumstances stability in a polity can be ensured either through legitimacy or through force. It would be tragic if the latter is the choice that is made.

ELECTORAL SOLUTION

President Wickremesinghe has been stressing the importance of political stability to achieve economic development. His recent statement that the security forces will be used to negate any unauthorised protest is a sign that the government expects the conditions of economic hardship to escalate. The general public who are experiencing extreme economic hardship are appalled at the manner in which those who committed acts of corruption and violence in the past are being overlooked because they belong to the ruling party and its cliques. The IMF has made anti-corruption a prerequisite to qualify for a bailout, calling for “Reducing corruption vulnerabilities through improving fiscal transparency and public financial management, introducing a stronger anti-corruption legal framework, and conducting an in-depth governance diagnostic, supported by IMF technical assistance.”

It is morally unacceptable even if politically pragmatic that the president is failing to take action against the wrongdoers because he needs their votes in parliament. As a start, the president needs to appoint a credible and independent national procurement committee to ensure that major economic contracts are undertaken without corruption. Second, the president needs to bite the bullet on elections. The country’s burning issues would be better accepted by the country and world at large if they are being dealt with by a statesman than by a dictator. Government that is based on the people’s consent constitutes the sum and substance of democracy. This consent is manifested through free and fair elections that are regularly held. Local government elections have been postponed for a year and are reaching their legal maximum in terms of postponement. These elections need to be held before March next year.

Elections will enable the people to express their views in a democratic manner to elect their representatives for the present. This would provide the government with guidance in terms of the decisions it is being called to take to revive the economy and place the burden in a manner that will be acceptable to the people. The provincial council elections have been postponed since 2018. Democratically elected provincial councils share in the burdens of governance. The devolution of power that took place under the 13th Amendment was meant to promote ethnic harmony in the country. The president who has taken the position that he is for a solution to the ethnic conflict should seriously consider conducting the provincial council elections together with the local government elections se their financial costs. By doing so he will also gain legitimacy as a democratic statesman and not a dictator.

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Features

WEDNESDAY – Movie Review

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The Addams Family is back with a new tale to tell! Originally created by Charles Addams as a comic strip published in The New Yorker, it offered readers a sarcastic take on the ‘typical nuclear family’ by substituting it with a more macabre bunch of strange and eerie individuals. Since then the titular family has been adapted on to the big screen many times, from live action movies to animated versions, the Addams Family has gained many fans throughout the years. Created by Alfred Gough and Miles Millar, with Tim Burton working on four episodes of the eight-part series, Wednesday is a welcoming tale for young fans, but unfortunately fails to think outside the box and remains anchored to the floor with a messy storyline.

Dead-eyed Wednesday Addams (Jenna Ortega) is a stubborn, independent and intelligent teenager in this new series. Her penchant for attracting trouble wherever she goes alarms her parents, Morticia (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Gomez (Luis Guzmán). With an already strained relationship with her parents (specifically her mother), Wednesday is enrolled at Nevermore, an academy for outcasts like herself. Having attended the academy themselves, Morticia and Gomez are hopeful that their daughter will ‘fit right in’. Caught between trying to build her own identity and other teenage complexities, Wednesday soon finds herself in the middle of a twisted mystery.

This is the first time audiences are introduced to a teenage Wednesday, which allowed the creators to build a new world on their own terms, but while keeping true to the original nature of the character. The creators do a fair amount of world building by introducing other outcasts like the Fangs (vampires), Stoners (Gorgons), Scales (sirens) and Furs (werewolves), among others. Nevermore Academy itself is beautiful and comes with the classic package of creepy crypts, hidden rooms and secret societies. The series also offers a decent amount of gore, although they could have added more given Wednesday’s proclivity for gore-related activities. The series deals with classic young-adult tropes which includes teenage crushes, bullies, relationships and even prom, among other things. The series navigates through Wednesday’s journey of self-discovery, which is a new avenue for both the character and the fans. From understanding and displaying her emotions to discovering her identity and understanding her peers, the series takes a deep dive into heavy material.

Ortega’s performance as the titular character plays a major role in keeping audiences glued to the screen. This is also the first time viewers are shown a teenage Wednesday Addams, which works to Ortega’s benefit as she depicts more dimensions to the ghoulish, morose character many are associated with based on previous renditions. Her facial expressions and ability to deliver on seriously emotional moments strengthens her role as the lead. The rest of the Addams Family, even with limited screen time, lack the eccentricities their characters should have. Hopeless romantics Morticia and Gomez seem incompatible in this version and Uncle Fester is far less crazy than he ought to be. The only member worth mentioning is the Thing—a severed hand— who brought more character and spirit to the series acting alongside Ortega. With barely any room to develop a majority of the characters are prosaic and tedious, even though they remain vital to the plot.

Apart from Ortega, Gwendoline Christie and Emma Myers deserve honorable mentions for their roles as Nevermore’s head teacher, Larissa Weems and the peppy Enid Sinclair respectively. Enid quickly became a fan favorite as the character was the polar opposite to Wednesday. Her character is vital to Wednesday’s character development and their journey to find common ground as mismatched individuals is amusing.

Christina Ricci who played Wednesday in the 90s returns as ‘normie’ teacher, Miss Thornhill and unfortunately barely stands out and this in large part due to the messy storyline. The series is bogged down with numerous subplots and overlapping tropes and the characters with potential for growth are completely overlooked. With love triangles, bullies and killer monsters on the loose, the series self-destructs and the climax sinks into disappointment.

At the end of the day, Wednesday plays to the beat of the new generation and touches on new themes, which is welcoming seeing as the character should grow up at some point. While not everyone may relate to Wednesday’s teenage perils, it is interesting to witness her growth and her journey as an ‘outcast’ or ‘weirdo’. And while Wednesday doesn’t exactly offer a distinctly unique story, it gives audiences a small taste of what Jenna Ortega’s Wednesday is capable of. Creating a story around a well-established franchise is a difficult task, and in this case the creators fail to add value to their visions. If the series continues, the creators will have the opportunity to think further outside the box and push the limits to Wednesday’s character and give audiences a bone-chilling experience. Wednesday is currently streaming on Netflix.

 

 

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Features

Stage set for… AWESOME FRIDAY

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The past few weeks have been a very busy period for the new-look Mirage outfit…preparing themselves for their big night – Friday, December 2nd – when they would perform, on stage, for the very first time, as Donald Pieries (leader/vocals/drums), Benjy (bass), Niro Wattaladeniya (guitar), Viraj Cooray (guitar/vocals), Asangi Wickramasinghe (keyboard/vocals), along with their two frontline female vocalist, Sharon (Lulu) and Christine.

They have thoroughly immersed themselves in their practice sessions as they are very keen to surprise their fans, music lovers, and well-wishers, on opening night…at the Peacock, Berjaya Hotel, in Mount Lavinia.

Action starts at 8.00 pm and, thereafter, it will be five hours of great music, along with EFFEX DJs Widhara and Damien, interspersed with fun and excitement…for the whole family!

Yes, opening night is for the whole family, so you don’t need to keep some of your family members at home – kids, especially.

Working on their repertoire for Friday, bassist Benjy says “what we will dish out will be extra special, with lots of action on stage.”

It would be interesting to see Sharon (Lulu) doing her thing with Mirage, after her early days with the Gypsies, and, I’m told, a dynamic performance from Sharon is what is in store for all those who make it to the Peacock this Friday

Edward (Eddy) Joseph (centre) with Donald and Benjy

While the band was at one of their practice sessions, last week, they had a surprise visitor – Edward (Eddy) Joseph, a former member of the group Steelers, who is now based in Germany.

Eddy is here on a short visit and is scheduled to return to Germany, tomorrow (30).

He spent an hour with Mirage, at their practice session, and says he is disappointed that he would not be around for the group’s opening night.

However, there is a possibility of several well-known personalities, in the showbiz scene, turning up, on Friday night, to experience the sounds of the new-look Mirage, including Sohan Weerasinghe and Joey Lewis (from London).

Rajiv Sebastian, too, says he is keen to be a part of the fun-filled evening.

You could contact Benjy, on 0777356356, if you need to double check…their plans for AWESOME FRIDAY!

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