Aim - to become regional hub for industry:
A new chapter opens in Lanka's aviation history
Air travel, which was once considered a luxury, has today been made
available even to the middle class, with passengers being able to avail
themselves of SriLankan Air Taxi services for less than Rs. 3,000.
The launch of Mihin Lanka, the budget airline, brought international
air travel within the reach of the common man while the easy payment
scheme offered to Government servants made it possible for them too to
enjoy the luxury of experiencing an international ride on air and also
see another country. It opened up a new segment of travel to the
pilgrims with people increasingly visiting Dambadiva, Velakkani and
The first aircraft landed at the Ratmalana airport in 1931 and Sri
Lanka's first national airline was Air Ceylon. During the Second World
War several domestic air strips were opened while the Colombo airport in
Katunayake too was opened.
In later years, when the airline industry was making giant strides
including the launch of scheduled domestic flights to Jaffna, the LTTE
downed a Lion Air civilian aircraft and subsequently domestic flights
Domestic air facilities
President Mahinda Rajapaksa visiting the construction site
The unveiling of the plaque at Mattala with senor Chinese
Ongoing construction work at Mattala
Domestic air facilities such as the Puttalam airstrip which was
idling, was given over to Holcim to operate a cement factory.After the
end of terrorism one of the first industries to recover was the tourism
sector. With the Government's initiative of moving industries out of
Colombo, both entrepreneurs and tourists wanted to travel from point to
point quickly and the domestic airline sector was re-born with SriLankan
Air Taxies, Heli Tours operated by the Sri Lanka Air Force and Deccan
Aviation leading the way.
Minister of Aviation Priyankara Jayaratne said that they have already
received many positive inquiries from local investors about launching
more domestic flights to Jaffna and Trincomalee. "We are currently
evaluating these proposals," he said.
The Minister said that the Mahinda Chinthana clearly spells out that
Sri Lanka would be made a regional aviation hub. To meet this objective,
domestic air travel is very important. "A passenger can even now get a
domestic flight from Ratmalana, but he has to travel for two hours to
reach Ratmalana which is not practical. This is why the Government wants
to have a domestic passenger terminal within the Colombo airport"
Minister Jayaratne said.With President Mahinda Rajapaksa's directive to
bring in 2.5 million tourists to the country by 2016, a second
international airport was needed. A second international airport was
discussed for over two decades with Weerawila, Kalutara and several
other venues being proposed.
However, they were confined to proposals and it was only three years
ago that the decision was taken to build the second international
airport in Mattala, Hambantota.
The airport in Mattala is around 22 km from the new Ruhunu Magampura
Port.Chairman Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. Prasanna Wickramasuriya
said that the Mattala airport would be ready by the end of next year,
fulfilling a great void of the local aviation industry.
Sri Lanka's airline history would be rewritten by the end of next
year when passengers from all over the world would be able to fly direct
to Jaffna, Trincomalee and Hambantota without coming out of the
Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Colombo.
By next year, a passenger would be able to purchase a Toronto-Jaffna
return ticket; an investor could book a Colombo-Hambantota return
ticket; or a tourist would on-line print a Heathrow-Trincomalee return
ticket, taking the country closer towards its goal of becoming the
Wonder of Asia.
Wickramasuriya said that over 49 percent of the work is now completed
and that they are confident of completing the project ahead of the
schedule, to be opened in March. He said along with the construction,
the marketing of the airport is now in progress with several airlines
willing to touch down in Mattala.
The new international airport is expected to expand the local
aviation industry while being a catalyst for the country's economic
development, enabling international trade, tourism, vocational training
and employment.The airport is estimated to cost US$210 million and by
the end of construction will cover 2,000 hectares. It is being built to
be compatible with the latest Airbus A380 aircraft and has been designed
according to the recommendations of the International Civil Aviation
The Chinese government is providing financial assistance for the
project. The airport is being constructed by the China Harbour
Engineering Company. Upon completion, it will be operated by Airport and
Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd.Wickramasuriya said the airport is
being designed as an environmental-friendly 'green' airport. "After the
airport is opened we are targeting one million passengers per year.
"He explained that the airport would focus on 60 percent of cargo and
40 percent of passengers.
While the Hambantota Port would help increase cargo operations the
fruits and vegetables grown in the area would no longer have to be
transported to Colombo to be re-exported from the airport as it could be
done from Mattala. "This would be a major saving for the export sector."
Airport and Aviation Services Ltd has invested Rs. 80 million to
resurrect the Pidurutalagala communications tower, increasing the
overflying capacity of the country.
"With the rising of this tower, more airlines could patronise this
tower, enabling additional aircraft to use Sri Lankan air space," said
He said in a bid to make Mattala more viable, they have already
accepted proposals to set up pilot training schools and aircraft
maintenance and repair facilities. SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha
Wickramasinghe said they would be establishing an aircraft maintenance
centre along with an international player.
The Hambantota Airport will also supply fuel to airlines.
New star class hotel
The foundation stone for the first star class hotel complex being
constructed on the Mattala Airport premises, which is being built under
the Mahinda Chinthana-Vision for the Future program, will be laid on
September 19 at the auspicious time of 9.57 am with the participation of
Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, Minister of Civil Aviation Priyankara
Jayaratne and Hambantota district MP Namal Rajapaksa.
This star class hotel complex, consisting of 200 rooms on 10 acres,
is expected to be opened end November 2012. He also said that the
corporate jet arrivals have increased by over 27 percent and that we are
badly in need of a second city airport similar to Gatwick in London.
"This is a big revenue generating market and that is steps are being
taken to upgrade Ratmalana to a city airport so that Jet arrivals could
land there instead of Colombo."
He said that their aim as spelled by Mahinda Chintana is to make Sri
Lanka an aviation hub and the opening of the second international
airport in Mattala would take the country even closer towards this goal.