CAREER LONGEVITY with Nayomi Tennakoon, SriLankan Airlines, Country Manager, Maldives

PUBLISHED September 16, 2023 | updated September 16, 2023 01:11

In this special feature, we had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Nayomi Tennakoon, the Country Manager of SriLankan Airlines in the Maldives. Our conversation delves deep into her recent appointment and unveils the captivating narrative of her remarkable 28-year journey within the company. With candor and insight, Ms. Tennakoon shares her thoughts on the foundational principles that have steered her extraordinary career, reflects on notable achievements, and offers a compelling glimpse into the dynamic world of aviation.

1. Congratulations on your new role! Can you kindly enlighten us about the key factors contributing to your enduring career within SriLankan Airlines?

Reflecting upon my illustrious 28-year tenure, several pivotal factors emerge as the cornerstones of my professional journey. Adaptability to a diverse array of work conditions, a remarkable capacity to thrive under the crucible of pressure, and the artistry of cultivating robust professional relationships all stand out as the linchpins of my success. I have an innate passion for surmounting challenges, and SriLankan Airlines has consistently fostered an environment steeped in challenges, a crucible in which employees are not just permitted but encouraged to nurture their professional growth.

2. Can you share a particularly memorable achievement or milestone during your career journey that you are most proud of, and how did it contribute to the growth and success of SriLankan Airlines?

Certainly, amidst the tapestry of numerous achievements and milestones, one standout accomplishment that continues to resonate is my role in crafting SriLankan Airlines' inaugural Weight & Balance Manual. This was an Herculean undertaking, necessitating meticulous data compilation, the formulation of processes aligned with aircraft manufacturers' stringent regulations, and unwavering commitment to meeting the exacting standards delineated by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka.

The regularizing of the Weight & Balance Manual lent invaluable support to our airline, facilitating more efficient navigation through regulatory audits conducted by various domestic and international authorities.

3. How did your experience as a Ground Handling Agent at Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo from 1995 to 2000 shape your understanding of passenger service and airport operations?

Embarking on my career's maiden voyage as a frontline ground handling agent was a realization of a lifelong aspiration. Immersing myself in the airport's milieu during the 1990s proved to be a uniquely instructive experience. It was an era less ensnared by technological advancements, one wherein we grappled with paper-based ticketing systems and a host of manual processes. This epoch also entailed the simultaneous pursuit of impeccable customer service whilst upholding stringent safety protocols.

By virtue of working closely with both over-the-wing and under-the-wing teams at Bandaranaike International Airport, I was afforded a comprehensive view of aircraft turn-around activities and the intricacies involved in ensuring a seamless service flow. This knowledge served as a valuable compass when I later led the Airport Operations team as the Airport Service Manager.

4. Could you elaborate on your experience as the Area Manager in Gan Island, Maldives? How did you achieve and exceed revenue targets while upholding SriLankan Airlines' brand presence in the market?

My inaugural overseas sojourn transpired in the role of Area Manager in Gan Island. During my relatively brief tenure, we undertook a joint CSR initiative in collaboration with Kauvery Hospital in Tiruchirappalli, India, and other partners, delivering invaluable medical guidance to the local community, courtesy of esteemed medical professionals.

Our ability to discern burgeoning market demand allowed us to augment flight frequencies during the peak season of December 2019. Within the closely-knit community of Addu, where SriLankan Airlines held the distinction of being the sole international airline operating to Gan, we established an esteemed presence.

Regrettably, our ambitious plans for expansion, including connecting the GAAFU atoll in partnership with local entities, were truncated by the onset of the pandemic. Nevertheless, our commitment to this community remains a cornerstone of our strength.

5. In your extensive career, which role presented the most complex and multifaceted challenges, and how did you overcome them to achieve success?

Every role in my career journey has been a crucible for personal and professional development. For instance, my tenure as a ground handling agent served to cultivate invaluable soft skills, while my engagement with the Aircraft Weight and Balance team instilled an unwavering commitment to precision and the adherence to exacting safety standards. Additionally, the opportunity to mentor and nurture numerous aviation professionals over the years paved the way for my leadership of larger teams in my capacity as the Airport Service Manager.

6. How do you approach stakeholder management, and what tactics have you found effective in building and maintaining relationships with customers, agents, and industry authorities throughout your various roles?

The art of stakeholder management hinges on the twin pillars of understanding stakeholder expectations and maintaining consistent, open channels of communication. My extensive interactions with customers and various regulatory authorities have honed the skills requisite for the cultivation of harmonious relationships with a diverse array of stakeholders.

7. As the newly appointed Country Manager for Maldives, how do you plan to uphold and elevate SriLankan Airlines' reputation and operational excellence within the region while addressing the unique challenges and opportunities presented by the Maldivian market?

The Maldives has perennially occupied a pivotal position within our network, and my appointment as Country Manager in this idyllic archipelago fills me with immense enthusiasm. Presently, our focus is directed toward augmenting flight frequencies to the Maldives, with the ultimate goal of establishing daily connections to Gan Island. Additionally, our expansion plans encompass ventures into the Indian market, offering seamless connections through our Colombo hub, which augur well for our Maldivian passengers.

The bottleneck of congestion plaguing Velana International Airport presents a palpable challenge, necessitating a review of alternative international airport options to alleviate the strain on Male.

8. Can you elaborate on the factors that led to SriLankan Airlines achieving an operating profit for the first time in 15 years, and how do you plan to sustain this positive trajectory in the airline's financial performance?

The attainment of a net operating profit for the 2022-2023 fiscal year stands as a remarkable milestone, particularly in light of the myriad challenges that beset the airline in the preceding year. This feat can be ascribed to astute strategic decisions made by our management team and the unwavering dedication exhibited by our employees. The future appears promising, and the indomitable commitment of all those who serve SriLankan Airlines, fortified by their resilience and fortitude, is poised to propel the airline toward soaring heights.

10. How have advancements in technology, such as automation and digital tools, influenced your approach to airport operations and management over the years?

The panorama of aviation has witnessed a remarkable transformation throughout my career, from the phasing out of paper tickets in favor of e-tickets to the introduction of self-service kiosks at airports. As we venture into the epoch of Artificial Intelligence, we anticipate that numerous operational processes will undergo profound metamorphoses.

11. How do you foresee the aviation industry evolving, and what strategies would you consider to adapt to potential changes in passenger preferences and market dynamics?

The pervasive evolution of technology has ushered in improvements across various facets of the aviation sector, notably enhancing safety and operational efficiency. A seismic shift is discernible in the way travelers plan and book their journeys post-pandemic. Flexibility, in the form of changeable travel dates, now figures prominently in passenger preferences, accentuating the pivotal role of an airline's e-commerce platform in creating value for discerning customers.

12. If you had one piece of advice to give someone starting a career in the fast-paced aviation industry, what would it be?

A career in aviation is a tapestry woven with both exhilarating moments and formidable challenges. The industry continues its dynamic expansion, teeming with opportunities for enterprising young professionals. My advice to those who aspire to navigate the azure skies of aviation is to labor diligently, fortify your resilience, and know that the limitless expanse of the sky is your canvas for success.



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