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Operating Drones in Sri Lankan Airspace

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By Capt G A Fernando, MBA

RCyAF, Air Ceylon, Air Lanka, SIA and SriLankan Airlines,
Former Consultant/ Head of Air Operations CAASL.
gafplane@sltnet.lk
President,

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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Islamophobia and the threat to democratic development

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There’s an ill more dangerous and pervasive than the Coronavirus that’s currently sweeping Sri Lanka. That is the fear to express one’s convictions. Across the public sector of the country in particular many persons holding high office are stringently regulating and controlling the voices of their consciences and this bodes ill for all and the country.

The corrupting impact of fear was discussed in this column a couple of weeks ago when dealing with the military coup in Myanmar. It stands to the enduring credit of ousted Myanmarese Head of Government Aung San Suu Kyi that she, perhaps for the first time in the history of modern political thought, singled out fear, and not power, as the principal cause of corruption within the individual; powerful or otherwise.

To be sure, power corrupts but the corrupting impact of fear is graver and more devastating. For instance, the fear in a person holding ministerial office or in a senior public sector official, that he would lose position and power as a result of speaking out his convictions and sincere beliefs on matters of the first importance, would lead to a country’s ills going unaddressed and uncorrected.

Besides, the individual concerned would be devaluing himself in the eyes of all irrevocably and revealing himself to be a person who would be willing to compromise his moral integrity for petty worldly gain or a ‘mess of pottage’. This happens all the while in Lankan public life. Some of those who have wielded and are wielding immense power in Sri Lanka leave very much to be desired from these standards.

It could be said that fear has prevented Sri Lanka from growing in every vital respect over the decades and has earned for itself the notoriety of being a directionless country.

All these ills and more are contained in the current controversy in Sri Lanka over the disposal of the bodies of Covid victims, for example. The Sri Lankan polity has no choice but to abide by scientific advice on this question. Since authorities of the standing of even the WHO have declared that the burial of the bodies of those dying of Covid could not prove to be injurious to the wider public, the Sri Lankan health authorities could go ahead and sanction the burying of the bodies concerned. What’s preventing the local authorities from taking this course since they claim to be on the side of science? Who or what are they fearing? This is the issue that’s crying out to be probed and answered.

Considering the need for absolute truthfulness and honesty on the part of all relevant persons and quarters in matters such as these, the latter have no choice but to resign from their positions if they are prevented from following the dictates of their consciences. If they are firmly convinced that burials could bring no harm, they are obliged to take up the position that burials should be allowed.

If any ‘higher authority’ is preventing them from allowing burials, our ministers and officials are conscience-bound to renounce their positions in protest, rather than behave compromisingly and engage in ‘double think’ and ‘double talk’. By adopting the latter course they are helping none but keeping the country in a state of chronic uncertainty, which is a handy recipe for social instabiliy and division.

In the Sri Lankan context, the failure on the part of the quarters that matter to follow scientific advice on the burials question could result in the aggravation of Islamophobia, or hatred of the practitioners of Islam, in the country. Sri Lanka could do without this latter phobia and hatred on account of its implications for national stability and development. The 30 year war against separatist forces was all about the prevention by military means of ‘nation-breaking’. The disastrous results for Sri Lanka from this war are continuing to weigh it down and are part of the international offensive against Sri Lanka in the UNHCR.

However, Islamophobia is an almost world wide phenomenon. It was greatly strengthened during Donald Trump’s presidential tenure in the US. While in office Trump resorted to the divisive ruling strategy of quite a few populist authoritarian rulers of the South. Essentially, the manoeuvre is to divide and rule by pandering to the racial prejudices of majority communities.

It has happened continually in Sri Lanka. In the initial post-independence years and for several decades after, it was a case of some populist politicians of the South whipping-up anti-Tamil sentiments. Some Tamil politicians did likewise in respect of the majority community. No doubt, both such quarters have done Sri Lanka immeasurable harm. By failing to follow scientific advice on the burial question and by not doing what is right, Sri Lanka’s current authorities are opening themselves to the charge that they are pandering to religious extremists among the majority community.

The murderous, destructive course of action adopted by some extremist sections among Muslim communities world wide, including of course Sri Lanka, has not earned the condemnation it deserves from moderate Muslims who make-up the preponderant majority in the Muslim community. It is up to moderate opinion in the latter collectivity to come out more strongly and persuasively against religious extremists in their midst. It will prove to have a cementing and unifying impact among communities.

It is not sufficiently appreciated by governments in the global South in particular that by voicing for religious and racial unity and by working consistently towards it, they would be strengthening democratic development, which is an essential condition for a country’s growth in all senses.

A ‘divided house’ is doomed to fall; this is the lesson of history. ‘National security’ cannot be had without human security and peaceful living among communities is central to the latter. There cannot be any ‘double talk’ or ‘politically correct’ opinions on this question. Truth and falsehood are the only valid categories of thought and speech.

Those in authority everywhere claiming to be democratic need to adopt a scientific outlook on this issue as well. Studies conducted on plural societies in South Asia, for example, reveal that the promotion of friendly, cordial ties among communities invariably brings about healing among estranged groups and produces social peace. This is the truth that is waiting to be acted upon.

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Pakistan’s love of Sri Lanka

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By Sanjeewa Jayaweera

It was on 3rd January 1972 that our family arrived in Karachi from Moscow. Our departure from Moscow had been delayed for a few weeks due to the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It ended on 16th December 1971. After that, international flights were not permitted for some time.

The contrast between Moscow and Karachi was unbelievable. First and foremost, Moscow’s temperature was near minus 40 degrees centigrade, while in Karachi, it was sunny and a warm 28 degrees centigrade. However, what struck us most was the extreme warmth with which the airport authorities greeted our family. As my father was a diplomat, we were quickly ushered to the airport’s VIP Lounge. We were in transit on our way to Rawalpindi, the airport serving the capital of Islamabad.

We quickly realized that the word “we are from Sri Lanka” opened all doors just as saying “open sesame” gained entry to Aladdin’s cave! The broad smile, extreme courtesy, and genuine warmth we received from the Pakistani people were unbelievable.

This was all to do with Mrs Sirima Bandaranaike’s decision to allow Pakistani aircraft to land in Colombo to refuel on the way to Dhaka in East Pakistan during the military confrontation between Pakistan and India. It was a brave decision by Mrs Bandaranaike (Mrs B), and the successive governments and Sri Lanka people are still enjoying the fruits of it. Pakistan has been a steadfast and loyal supporter of our country. They have come to our assistance time and again in times of great need when many have turned their back on us. They have indeed been an “all-weather” friend of our country.

Getting back to 1972, I was an early beneficiary of Pakistani people’s love for Sri Lankans. I failed the entrance exam to gain entry to the only English medium school in Islamabad! However, when I met the Principal, along with my father, he said, “Sanjeewa, although you failed the entrance exam, I will this time make an exception as Sri Lankans are our dear friends.” After that, the joke around the family dinner table was that I owed my education in Pakistan to Mrs B!

At school, my brother and I were extended a warm welcome and always greeted “our good friends from Sri Lanka.” I felt when playing cricket for our college; our runs were cheered more loudly than of others.

One particular incident that I remember well was when the Embassy received a telex from the Foreign inistry. It requested that our High Commissioner seek an immediate meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr Zulifikar Ali Bhutto (ZB), and convey a message from Mrs B. The message requested that an urgent shipment of rice be dispatched to Sri Lanka as there would be an imminent rice shortage. As the Ambassador was not in the station, the responsibility devolved on my father.

It usually takes about a week or more to get an audience with the Prime Minister (PM) of a foreign country due to their busy schedule. However, given the urgency, my father spoke to the Foreign Ministry’s Permanent Sectary, who fortunately was our neighbour and sought an urgent appointment. My father received a call from the PM’s secretary around 10 P.M asking him to come over to the PM’s residence. My father met ZB around midnight. ZB was about to retire to bed and, as such, was in his pyjamas and gown enjoying a cigar! He had greeted my father and had asked, “Mr Jayaweera, what can we do for great friend Madam Bandaranaike?. My father conveyed the message from Colombo and quietly mentioned that there would be riots in the country if there is no rice!

ZB had immediately got the Food Commissioner of Pakistan on the line and said, “I want a shipload of rice to be in Colombo within the next 72 hours!” The Food Commissioner reverted within a few minutes, saying that nothing was available and the last export shipment had left the port only a few hours ago to another country. ZB had instructed to turn the ship around and send it to Colombo. This despite protests from the Food Commissioner about terms and conditions of the Letter of Credit prohibiting non-delivery. Sri Lanka got its delivery of rice!

The next was the visit of Mrs B to Pakistan. On arrival in Rawalpindi airport, she was given a hero’s welcome, which Pakistan had previously only offered to President Gaddafi of Libya, who financially backed Pakistan with his oil money. That day, I missed school and accompanied my parents to the airport. On our way, we witnessed thousands of people had gathered by the roadside to welcome Mrs B.

When we walked to the airport’s tarmac, thousands of people were standing in temporary stands waving Sri Lanka and Pakistan flags and chanting “Sri Lanka Pakistan Zindabad.” The noise emanating from the crowd was as loud and passionate as the cheering that the Pakistani cricket team received during a test match. It was electric!

I believe she was only the second head of state given the privilege of addressing both assemblies of Parliament. The other being Gaddafi. There was genuine affection from Mrs B amongst the people of Pakistan.

I always remember the indefatigable efforts of Mr Abdul Haffez Kardar, a cabinet minister and the President of the Pakistan Cricket Board. From around 1973 onwards, he passionately championed Sri Lanka’s cause to be admitted as a full member of the International Cricket Council (ICC) and granted test status. Every year, he would propose at the ICC’s annual meeting, but England and Australia’s veto kept us out until 1981.

I always felt that our Cricket Board made a mistake by not inviting Pakistan to play our inaugural test match. We should have appreciated Mr Kardar and Pakistan’s efforts. In 1974 the Pakistan board invited our team for a tour involving three test matches and a few first-class games. Most of those who played in our first test match was part of that tour, and no doubt gained significant exposure playing against a highly talented Pakistani team.

Several Pakistani greats were part of the Pakistan and India team that played a match soon after the Central Bank bomb in Colombo to prove that it was safe to play cricket in Colombo. It was a magnificent gesture by both Pakistan and India. Our greatest cricket triumph was in Pakistan when we won the World Cup in 1996. I am sure the players and those who watched the match on TV will remember the passionate support our team received that night from the Pakistani crowd. It was like playing at home!

I also recall reading about how the Pakistani government air freighted several Multi Barrell artillery guns and ammunition to Sri Lanka when the A rmy camp in Jaffna was under severe threat from the LTTE. This was even more important than the shipload of rice that ZB sent. This was crucial as most other countries refused to sell arms to our country during the war.

Time and again, Pakistan has steadfastly supported our country’s cause at the UNHCR. No doubt this year, too, their diplomats will work tirelessly to assist our country.

We extend a warm welcome to Mr Imran Khan, the Prime Minister of Pakistan. He is a truly inspirational individual who was undoubtedly an excellent cricketer. Since retirement from cricket, he has decided to get involved in politics, and after several years of patiently building up his support base, he won the last parliamentary elections. I hope that just as much as he galvanized Sri Lankan cricketers, his political journey would act as a catalyst for people like Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene to get involved in politics. Cricket has been called a “gentleman’s game.” Whilst politics is far from it!.

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Covid-19 health rules disregarded at entertainment venues?

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Believe me, seeing certain videos, on social media, depicting action, on the dance floor, at some of these entertainment venues, got me wondering whether this Coronavirus pandemic is REAL!

To those having a good time, at these particular venues, and, I guess, the management, as well, what the world is experiencing now doesn’t seem to be their concerned.

Obviously, such irresponsible behaviour could create more problems for those who are battling to halt the spread of Covid-19, and the new viriant of Covid, in our part of the world.

The videos, on display, on social media, show certain venues, packed to capacity – with hardly anyone wearing a mask, and social distancing…only a dream..

How can one think of social distancing while gyrating, on a dance floor, that is over crowded!

If this trend continues, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Coronavirus makes its presence felt…at such venues.

And, then, what happens to the entertainment scene, and those involved in this field, especially the musicians? No work, whatsoever!

Lots of countries have closed nightclubs, and venues, where people gather, in order to curtail the spread of this deadly virus that has already claimed the lives of thousands.

Thailand did it and the country is still having lots of restrictions, where entertainment is concerned, and that is probably the reason why Thailand has been able to control the spread of the Coronavirus.

With a population of over 69 million, they have had (so far), a little over 25,000 cases, and 83 deaths, while we, with a population of around 21 million, have over 80,000 cases, and more than 450 deaths.

I’m not saying we should do away with entertainment – totally – but we need to follow a format, connected with the ‘new normal,’ where masks and social distancing are mandatory requirements at these venues. And, dancing, I believe, should be banned, at least temporarily, as one can’t maintain the required social distance, while on the dance floor, especially after drinks.

Police spokesman DIG Ajith Rohana keeps emphasising, on TV, radio, and in the newspapers, the need to adhere to the health regulations, now in force, and that those who fail to do so would be penalised.

He has also stated that plainclothes officers would move around to apprehend such offenders.

Perhaps, he should instruct his officers to pay surprise visits to some of these entertainment venues.

He would certainly have more than a bus load of offenders to be whisked off for PCR/Rapid Antigen tests!

I need to quote what Dr. H.T. Wickremasinghe said in his article, published in The Island of Tuesday, February 16th, 2021:

“…let me conclude, while emphasising the need to continue our general public health measures, such as wearing masks, social distancing, and avoiding crowded gatherings, to reduce the risk of contact with an infected person.

“There is no science to beat common sense.”

But…do some of our folks have this thing called COMMON SENSE!

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