Rat runs amok on already struggling airline

Henry

Sri Lanka’s already struggling national airline had to ground one of its planes for three days last week – and that because of a rat.

The rodent was spotted on the plane during a flight from the Pakistani city of Lahore on Thursday.

A consequent desperate search for the rat on board a Sri Lankan Airlines Airbus A330 meant that the plane was grounded for three days on the runway in Colombo due to fears that the little animal would start gnawing on critical components in the plane.

The rat was finally found dead.

An airline official has since confirmed that the plane was finally able to resume all flights after numerous delays. However, the three days it was on the runway had a major effect on flight times.

This state-owned airline, which recorded a loss of more than $1.8 billion (about R34.6 billion) at the end of March, has three other planes (out of a fleet of 23) that have been grounded for more than a year .

However, the airline has no foreign currency to pay for the mandatory overhaul of the planes’ engines.

Nimal Siripala de Silva, the country’s aviation minister, told reporters that the errant rat may scare off “the few investors” interested in taking over the debt-ridden shipping company.

Various Sri Lankan governments have been trying to get rid of the struggling airline for years. The shipping company was even offered for sale at one stage for a single dollar (just under R20), but no one – except perhaps the rat – had an appetite for the transaction.

The International Monetary Fund, which last year granted a loan of $2.9 billion over four years to Sri Lanka, says such state enterprises are a heavy burden on the national budget.

Sri Lankan Airlines was profitable until a management agreement with Emirates was scrapped in 2008, following a dispute with then-Pres. Mahinda Rajapaksa.

At the time, the airline refused to give up paying passengers’ seats to 35 members of Rajapaksa’s family, who had returned from a holiday in London.