I have been pondering for some time , how to honor a person who sowed the seeds of Aviation in my mind. I would say,  it was God’s providence that I met this gentleman out of all the places , on an interview panel. In 1972  when AirCeylon recruited Flight Operations officers , I was one of the applicants for this job interview and was interviewed by Capt.P.B.Mawalagedra  and  Capt. G.E.L.. Ferdinand ,( Both were there in their uniforms) and the personnel manager T.S.de Fonseka. The interview was done by the two Captains and especially by Capt. Ferdinand , who was to be my immediate boss. Besides the basic qualifications ,the prerequisite for this Job , was to have a Private Pilot’s License . I did not have  a  Pilot’s License , Captain Ferdi. was instrumental in recruiting me to this position  with Captain  Mawa. based purely on merits ,the command of the language and the communication skills  I  had. This association with Capt .Ferdi continued till he passed  away in Melbourne , at least by postal mail, when I was working at Abudhabi Airport.

I would say at the outset, it gives me great pleasure and also a heavy heart to pen these few words of this lovable human being ,who always flew other’s Hearts and Lives to greater heights ,than he flew his beloved aircrafts without any incidents.  Shakespeare’s theme , ” Some are Born Great , Some Achieve greatness ” ,  Capt. Ferdi fit this mould without any doubt. Born to a family of privilege , his father ( informed by a friend ) was a  Government agent of Srilanka. Capt. Ferdinand was a product of Royal College Colombo, When World War two progressed , he volunteered as an Air Cadet , joined the RAF at 17 years and was sent to England for training . After his basic training in England , he was stationed  here,  in Canada,   at the RAF base . When the war ended thankfully for the world, Ferdinand returned to Srilanka and joined the first National Airline that was being formed, AirCeylon, as a Trainee Pilot in 1947, with his RAF flying experience  for a salary of  Rs 10.00 per hour , as indicated in some other publications. I am sure  that Capt. Ferdi enjoyed his time in the air more than the hourly pay, since he strongly felt his passion for flying was much greater than the remuneration. He was more keen on advancing his career and decided to leave an indelible mark in his flying .

I believe somewhere during this period  Ferdinand met a really charming, smart, and beautiful air hostess , Therese Victoria,  and their romance blossomed in matrimony . Both were blessed with two sons  a  few years  later .  Soon Capt .Fedi was flying as a copilot with Capt. Peter Fernando  on DC-3 , and his salary too was increased.. On 10th  of  December 1947, Capt.Peter Fernando and Capt. Ferdi  operated the inaugural flight to Madras  from Ratmalana  Airport. Capt Ferdinand and  Capt.Mawalagedra flew on the DC-3 almost everyday . Capt. Ferdi. acquired enough hours and experience , and was checked out  as a Captain on DC-3  along with  Capt. Mawalgedra. They trained other pilots to fly the DC-3  aircraft.  DC-3  operated flights to Madras, Trichy,Jaffna,and Trincomalee. Both  Captains operated most of these flights, and  Capt. Ferdinand acquired around 10,000 hours of flying on DC-3. He was appointed Chief Pilot on the DC-3.  In 1964  when  AirCeylon  purchased Hawker Siddeley ,Turbo Propeller aircraft ,AVRO – HS 748 ,Capt. Ferdi and Mawa went to England for training with Hawker Siddeley, and brought the  AVRO to Colombo. AVRO operated flights to Trichy ,Madras, and to Male. DC-3 was mainly used for domestic flights. In 1971 when  AirCeylon purchased  Hawker Siddeley Trident -HS-121, Capt.Ferdi  and Capt .Mawa were selected for  Capt’s training  and other Captains  too ,  L.B.De Silva, Aussie Jayawardena,Anil Rambukwella ,and P.Nadarajah were also selected  .Trident operated flights to Bombay,Singapore,Malaysia ,and to Bangkok. Capt Ferdinand became a Chief and Test Pilot for the Trident , and was appointed as the Manager Flight Operations . When I joined in 1972 ,Capt.Mawalagedra was the Assistant General Manager for operations ,and was fortunate to have worked with them for seven years . I believe in 1977 , Capt. Ferdi took a break from AirCeylon for a short time . In 1977 when AirCeylon started independent operation of flights to European sectors, after the Pool Partnership with UTA  French Airline, Ferdi was checked out as a Capt. on the DC-8 , and  he flew till AirCeylon was asked to cease  operations in 1979 by the then government,  to pave the way for the startup of a new airline, AirLanka. In 1978 when there was some political  unrest in the country, the Tamils were fleeing the capital out of fear , and we operated special evacuation  flights to Jaffna on the DC-8.  The  DC-8  never operated any flights to Palaly Airport ,Jaffna. Capt.Ferdi alone operated  all these flights,  with first officer R.Bala Dharan , and Flight Engineer Vivekanandhan,and myself too went on all these flights as Flight Operations staff for about a week. It was a difficult operation since not a jet engine passenger aircraft operated any flights to Palaly Airport, Jaffna. The logistics and support were also an issue,as there were no aircraft step- ladders available, to reach the DC-8 aircraft ,to disembark the passengers. This was eventually solved by bringing the high pedestal steps that were used at the Nallur Temple for the Chariot Festival. The strength of the runway , L C N , and the length was also a factor considered, Capt Ferdinand assured General Manager , James Lanerolle ,that he could handle the operations safely. I was  part of this planning with Baladharan ,Udawella,and I believe, my ex-colleague and friend Capt.G.A .Fernando, GAF, was there too. In 1979 when AirCeylon was made to cease operations, and  AirLanka was created by President  Jayawardena , Capt.Ferdi  joined  AirLanka,  and flew the Boeing 707 ,and Lockheed Tristars- L 1011, as Capt. He did his last flight , was told ( As I was working at Abudhabi Airport)  at the age of 62 ,decided to ” hang up his uniform ” and moved to England to be with his sons.

” Once A flier Is Always One ” he felt his calling and returned to AirLanka in 1988,  and served as the Flight Operations Manager. At the end of 1989 ,he finally decided to lead a private life ,from an active and a  well deserved flying career , spanning more than forty years , flying Tiger Moth,  DC-3,Nord -262, Avro HS 748 ,Trident HS-121 , DC-8 .Boeing 707,  and Tristar – L1011,  said  Adios and migrated to Australia to be with his sons who live in Melbourne. He still continued his passion in Aviation by listening , maybe on a  mobile Radio Scanner , the communications between the Pilots and the Air traffic control,  since he lived closer to the Moorabbin Airport , Melbourne , relaxing in his garden.

He passed away on the 4th of April 1966, while listening to the Tower frequencies ,all of a sudden. He did not have any ailment or any unfavorable health conditions. I heard his beloved  Therese found him unresponsive in the garden chair , called the EMS,and was pronounced , Capt. had his last breath. His passing away all of a sudden came as a rude shock to many , and was personal  for me . I still strongly feel it in my heart , that he opened the doors to the ” Blue Skies” and gave me an opportunity to make Aviation as a career ,passion ,and pursue this passion even to this very moment.

 I never saw him getting mad at anyone during the seven years I worked with him, treated everyone with respect,and was always there to give a helping hand to the people down the line. He could have kept to himself thinking that he was a Captain , but Capt.Ferdi never had an Air about him , a real Human Being ,who never lost his head .He was a gentleman,  Par excellence.  I can quote many incidents of my association with him and the flights I did with him. Like to mention a few words of Therese ,who lives with her sons in Melbourne , was there with Ferdi. every step of the way ,and I was fortunate to have known her  like a family. Capt.Ferdi and Therese were exemplary hosts , and I fondly  remember  the  moments I had at his home in Classen Place , Colombo 4 or 5.  I treasure his official letters to me signed by him as mementos , Xmas cards every year when  I  was  in Abudhabi till his last days . Capt. Ferdinand flew to his Heavenly Abode ,on the 4th April 1996,but the lives he touched ,memories,his mesmerizing eyes, and laughter will always remain in many hearts and for sure in my heart always. Capt. Ferdi always believed ” The Vocation you pursue does not make you great , but the inherent qualities you carry ,  Will .   I  want  to say a big Thank You ,to both my ex colleagues ,good friends and Ferdi’s God son , Capt.Duleep Vethavanam, and Capt  GAF for providing the information I needed on  Capt ferdi’s flying career .

Capt. Ferdi , with great humility , I say that you were the Sweetest Prince I met in my life, and you left an indelible impression in our lives.

Quoting Leonardo Da Vinci , ” When  Once You Have Tasted  Flight  Forever, Walk With Your Eyes Turned  Skyward  ,  For  There  You Have Been  &  There  You Will  Always Long To  Return ” .

 So Long , Capt. Ferdinand ,  A Job  Well  Done .   To  Sir !   With Love .

K.N. Sivagnanasunderam ( Blue)

Former Flight Operations Officer,

Air Ceylon Ltd.




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