Courage Overcomes
A Determined Hill

     Think you have problems?
     Peter Hill, CEO Sri Lankan Airlines is spending this holiday season as an airline boss in exile when Government of Sri Lanka cancelled his work/residence visa.
     The beef against Mr. Hill appears to be some trumped up charges of failing to accommodate the President of the country and his entourage (35 in total) on a fully booked SriLankan line flight from LHR to CMB.
     Faced with demand to offload a similar number of commercial customers on short notice, Hill balked and then came the hell.
     Peter Hill has always known that his spot in the wide world of commercial aviation was a tough one.
     Still he is a decent, down to earth guy, a superb manager who lives where he works—in the local Sri Lanka community with his Sri Lankan-born wife, which makes his ouster seem over the top to say the least.
     Hill oversees and operates the airline hands-on with a passion to keep the carrier flying despite tough local conditions at times.
     Right now in his tenth year as CEO at SriLankan, Peter Hill has literally lifted that carrier up from the ashes having survived all manner of challenge, including a terrorist attack in 2001 that destroyed half of the fleet.
     He recalls being awakened at 4:20 a.m. one July night in 2001 and for a moment not believing what he was hearing.
     “It was like being suspended between sleep and being awake; as in a strange yet very real dreamlike state.
     “One of my duty managers called screaming that the airport was under attack.
     “Rebels have occupied the airport and they’re blowing up our aircraft,” he said.
     “Through the phone line I could hear the explosions and gun fire.”
     A Tamil Tiger suicide squad had gained access to the hardstand and went about blowing up three SriLankan Airlines Airbuses while badly damaging three others.
     In an instant, Peter Hill learned that half the fleet had gone up in flames.
     But from that devastation something unexpected happened.
     In an atmosphere of declining business and continued losses for the airline had come this horrific attack followed by an insurance settlement of about USD$350 million.
     As he sat looking at the check on his desk inside the airline’s office in Colombo’s World Trade Center, a new beginning was formed.
     Here was this airline in the immediate aftermath of terror attacks with its main revenue base of tourists badly eroded.
     “What the hell do we do next?” Peter Hill thought.
     Turns out the check offered some flexibility toward a new beginning that in a strange twist of fate might not have been available.
     Peter Hill, it turns out given the chance, had a better idea.
     While continuing to discover new and better ways to build the airline as an engine to draw world tourism to beautiful Sri Lanka, he would also take advantage of the island nation’s unique position in relation to India and the global trade lanes.
     Today the rest is history with SriLankan now delivering itself as the biggest foreign airline in the world operating flights in and out of India.
     Born in Somerset and brought up in London, Peter Hill joined British Airways as a commercial trainee at 17.
     He did a stint in Uganda before joining Gulf Air in Bahrain.
     After moving to Dubai, Mr. Hill joined Emirates Airlines with responsibility for all of Emirates’ commercial operations east of Dubai, including Australia, Hong Kong, India and Sri Lanka.
     Peter Hill having faced down crises after crises is a man who in manner and fact has put down some roots here.
     He remains as always both determined and hopeful.
     “Whatever the future holds, my life will be centered in Sri Lanka.
     “We have been working to have our management contract extended (Emirates owns 49% of the carrier) and have been negotiating for a new contract with the GOSL for some time now.”
     It’s hard to think that the Peter Hill episode is not simply a provocation, some over the top pressure being applied as part of that negotiating process, but Mr. Hill will not make the charge.
     “I'll be heading off for DXB in the next few days and will still be running UL as CEO, but remotely from DXB for the time being while looking forward to returning to Sri Lanka again, once the storm blows over.”
     We recall that prior to joining Emirates Peter Hill took a break when he purchased an historic old pub in the United Kingdom that he operated for a couple of years before getting back in the airline game.
     Perhaps that time of pulling pints rather than pushing back afforded him a special feeling for working stiffs and others who buy airplane tickets and wait for flights.
     Peter Hill has figured out things before. As his life unfolds in Sri Lanka, we wish him well.