Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 6 March 2011





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Ready for take-off in December 2012:

Mattala int'l airport to breathe new life for Hambantota

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, Minister Priyankara Jayaratne and AASL Chairman, Prasanna Wickramasuriya unveling the plaque for the new access road

Lack of water for drinking and irrigation was one of the biggest problems the Hambantota area faced. Even the former Government Agent and legendary writer Sir Leonard Woolf had mentioned this in his books as well as in his reports.

There were a few lakes which had all turned green with weeds and polluted water while the adjoining land was barren and seemed like a desert.

Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa said that one of the first things the population in the area wanted from them was a solution to this burning problem.

Minister Jayatne and AASL Chairman Prasanna Wickramasuriya at the ground breaking ceremeny

The runway being laid

The fire and rescue section to be opened in April

 The control tower

Ongoing constrcttion

"Today, thanks to the mammoth and focused development that is taking place in the area, one could see landscapes which have turned green with plantations while the lakes have been cleared, bringing a solution to the main problem the area faced," he said.

The Speaker said that the Government has taken further steps and provided solutions to other problems that had hampered the area for decades. "If Woolf was to revisit the area now, he would be very happy to note that all issues pointed by him to the colonial rulers have now being solved. We have done justice even to Woolf's thoughts," he said.

Chinese Quality controller

Mega development projects as well as close supervision were the key to Hambantota being elevated from a low income earning district to an area which is enjoying a higher per capita income and better living standards than some of the other districts.

One of the key projects to usher in prosperity to Hambantota is the second international airport in Mattala which is around 22 km away from the new Ruhunu Magampura Port.

The vision of the government is to enhance the economy of the least developed regions of the island. Hambantota and Moneragala districts have been identified as potential regions and the Greater Hambantota development program was designed to uplift the economic activities of the region.

The concept of a second international airport for Sri Lanka originated in 1938. The Government's manifesto contained in the Mahinda Chinthana emphasises the establishment of a second international airport in Sri Lanka.

The ground-breaking ceremony for this project was held in March 2010 and today it is progressing on schedule. Over 75 percent of the runway, which is 3.5 km in length, enabling even wide-bodied aircraft including the world's largest A380 to land, is now complete. The fire and rescue building and their infrastructure would be ready before April while electrical and water connections too would be ready by the same period.

Work on the transit hotel and other buildings would get off the ground in April.

Built at a cost of US $ 209 million, with a soft loan from China to be paid in 20 years with a grace period of five years, the airport will be opened in December 2012, making it one of the 'quickest built' airports in the World.

No human-elephant conflict

The area now being developed for the airport was also used by elephants as a corridor and today the Ministry of Aviation together with the Wildlife Department has taken steps to relocate this herd of jumbos which is said to be around 100.

"We have not chased them away and have created a new corridor and will be building an electrical fence to prevent a human-elephant conflict", said Deputy Director Wildlife, A.S. Sumanasekera. He said that their life pattern would not change and passengers would even see elephants on the opposite side of the runway, making it the only such airport in the world.

Chairman AASL, Prasanna Wickramasuriya said that they would have a separate area where passengers could watch the wildlife as the airport has been designed as an environmental friendly 'green' airport.

The new Minister of Aviation Priyankara Jayaratne who visited the airport to review its progress and lay the foundation stone for the access road said that they will open the airport in December with flights taking off on scheduled departures from that day. "After the airport is opened it would not lay idle as we are targeting one million passengers per year. Several airlines have already contracted us to fly from Hambantota from next December", he said.

He explained that they would focus more on perishable cargo.

"In addition, under the second stage we are looking at a flying school, aircraft maintenance and repair sector, and a free trade zone. China Harbour Corporation along with Sri Lankan engineers is handling the construction and China has even brought quality controllers for the project."

A rail link to the Hambantota Port is also being designed and the airport would also be connected to the proposed Matara-Kataragama railway. Two aero bridges would come in to operation under the first stage.

"We have also decided to upgrade the nearby Namalwila Hospital to international standards. This would be one of the first direct benefits the airport would give the community.

The Government had previously allocated an area at Weerawila, also in the southern part of the country, for the new airport, but the project was finally scrapped due to environmental concerns. However, the AASL "the operating body of Sri Lanka's airports "now states that they have earmarked the lands and have now received approval for environmental concerns.

It is estimated that the Mattala airport project would generate over 50,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities and the proposed free trade zone too would help raise the standard of living of the people in the area.

The 40 metre tall control tower being built in the shape of a lotus would be one of the eye-catching features of the airport.

Cold rooms, facilities for quarantine, Customs, immigration, security vaults, waiting areas, car parking, duty free shops, restaurants, banks and other logistics are now falling in to place.

The AASL has also formulated a target market and an air and "sea transshipment hub would be a priority.

Airlines-passenger and cargo, aircraft maintenance service providers and aviation training are also on the cards.

Aviation-related industries along with tourism-related products would also be focused while private flight owners and service providers too would be welcomed.

The income is expected to be generated from airlines-passenger and cargo. Aircraft maintenance service providers are also expected to be a big future business at Mattala.

Aviation training and other related industries too would generate funds for the project.

Private flight owners and service providers and the duty free shops too would be other avenues that would make this project more viable.

The profit generated from the airport would help raise the standard of the less affluent people in the area who were cold-shouldered for centuries and lived in sheer poverty.


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