SriLankan Airlines’ lady pilots have quietly revolutionized aviation in Sri Lanka, with several international flights being carried out by all-female crews.
Captain Anusha Siriratne and Junior First Officer Madini Chandradasa were the first all-female crew, operating a flight from Colombo to Trichy and back on 1st November 2009. Each leg on an Airbus A320 aircraft took one hour.
They repeated the feat on New Year’s Day 2010 by flying to Karachi and returning, also in a twin-engined A320, with each flight taking three hours and forty minutes.
The airline currently has four ladies among its 189 pilots, the others being Senior First Officers Chamika Rupasinghe and Roshani Jinasena.
SriLankan’s Head of Flight Operations, Captain Druvi Perera, said: "These flights by Capt. Siriratne and Junior First Officer Chandradasa are a milestone at SriLankan Airlines. SriLankan does not discriminate between men and women in its recruitment for any post, including pilots, and it was simply a matter of time before our lady pilots made history with an all-female flight."
"Of course, the all-female crew flights are no different to those operated by male pilots. At SriLankan, where safety is of paramount importance, what matters is not a pilot’s gender, but his or her experience, training, and expertise," added Capt. Perera.
SriLankan has a perfect flight safety record over more than three decades of operations, the result of some very tough standards for its pilots. All pilots must have a minimum of seven years of commercial airline experience before being considered for the respected post of Captain.
Capt. Anusha Siriratne, 34, is at present the first and only lady Captain at SriLankan, and has been flying since 1998. She has flown aircraft such as the Lockheed L1011 Tristar, Airbus A320, A330, and A340. But she is adamant that there is nothing special about an all-female flight crew.
"Women took to the air only a few years after the Wright Brothers invented the airplane, and some have been pioneers in aviation, although there have been fewer women flyers than male ones. Many airlines around the world have women pilots, and there is absolutely no difference between the flying of male and female pilots," said Capt. Siriratne.
She has been making history since becoming a Junior First Officer a dozen years ago, becoming the country’s pioneering First Officer in 1999, and then being promoted to Captain in 2008. She and her husband, Capt. Hemantha Siriratne, are also the first husband-wife duo to be Captains at SriLankan. A past student of Holy Family Convent, Bambalapitiya and of Ladies College, she is also a perfect example of a working mother, with a six-year-old daughter.
Junior First Officer Madini Chandradasa said: "Flying for our National Carrier has certainly been a rewarding experience. The senior pilots at SriLankan possess a wealth of experience which youngsters can learn from. But I must say that there was no difference in flying with a male Captain, and flying with Capt. Siriratne, who is greatly respected in the airline and has served as a role model for other women pilots."
Madini, 22, is a past student of Visakha Vidyalaya who joined SriLankan two years ago.
All four lady pilots trained in SriLankan’s Cadet Pilot Training Programme, which has launched the careers of hundreds of pilots over the last three decades who have gone on to distinguish themselves both at the National Carrier and in other airlines throughout Asia and the Middle East. Entry into its Cadet Pilot Training Programme is especially competitive, and most cadets today possess university degrees, as well as experience in flying light aircraft and small commercial aircraft.
Senior First Officers Chamika Rupasinghe and Roshani Jinasena are now flying the long-haul A330 and A340 aircraft to Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East.
Chamika, 32, was a Flight Stewardess who joined the airline’s Cadet Pilot Training Programme in 2005 and earned her wings. A past student of Visakha Vidyalaya, she graduated from the University of Sri Jayawardenapura with a degree in Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, and is also CIMA qualified.
Roshani, 26, joined the airline as a Cadet Pilot in 2005. She holds a BSc in Management from the University of Surrey, and is a past student of Ladies College, the British School, and the Colombo International School.
Capt. Perera says the airline is very pleased with the progress of its lady pilots. "SriLankan Airlines encourages more young women to seriously consider careers as airline pilots. As our first four lady pilots have proven, the sky is the limit," said Capt. Perera