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Mattala, a marvel in global air travel


MRIA has Sri Lanka’s only runway that could facilitate landing an Airbus 380

Air traffic control tower

An aerial view of the terminal

ANCL Chairman Bandula Padmakumara, Mass Media and Information Ministry Secretary
Charitha Herath and Airport and Aviation Services Chairman Prasanna Wickremesuriya
at the air traffic control tower

Aviation Minister Piyankara Jayaratne explains a point

Another milestone in Sri Lanka’s forward march towards its goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia has been achieved! A little-known village of Mattala in the Hambantota district will become the latest addition to international air travel maps as the new Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) will be open by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in eight day’s time.

Many scoffed at the idea when plans for another international airport was mooted a few years ago. Some thought that it would be a daunting task to find funds to construct a new airport. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa was determined to gift the nation with the country’s second international airport, little over seven years since he first assumed duties as the Head of State.

The most impressive factor of the architecture of the MRIA is that it has preserved the Sri Lankan identity in its construction while incorporating modern facilities and techniques. The traditional meda midula concept is visible in the main passenger terminal.

The four-lane motorway which connects the MRIA to Hambantota, linking the Magampura Port and Mahinda Rajapaksa International Stadium in Sooriyawewa gives a truly international class. As you arrive at the MRIA, its main control tower recalls the architecture of China’s Beijing Olympic Stadium, better known as the Bird’s Nest. The walls of the MRIA main control tower looks very much similar to the distant look of the Bird’s Nest, because it’s another Chinese construction.

The construction of MRIA will usher in a new era not only for people in the Southern Province but also for those in the adjoining Eastern, Sabaragamuwa and Uva Provinces. Thousands of new job opportunities in various fields would be created for the people in the area as Hambantota emerges as a commercial hub.

With MRIA emerging as Sri Lanka’s second international airport after the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), the Southern city of Hambantota will be developed as a sea-air transportation hub. The MRIA is only 17-minutes drive from the newly built Magampura harbour.

What is unique in the commissioning of the new MRIA is that it will offer international flights from day one. Four international airlines have already announced their international schedules from Mattala while several other international airlines have already expressed their willingness to pick Mattala as their latest destination.

Apart from SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Lanka, Air Arabia and Chinese Eastern Airlines will begin operations on the day the MRIA is commissioned. Chinese Eastern Airlines will fly from Shanghai to the BIA via Mattala twice a week - on Mondays and Saturdays while the local budget airline will operate daily flights to Bodh Gaya.

The national carrier SriLankan Airlines will operate three flights a week to Riyadh from Mattala.

There would be another flight from BIA to Beijing via Mattala operated by the China Eastern Airlines and to Male from Katunayake via Mattala by SriLankan Airlines while Mihin Lanka will fly to Buddha Gaya via Mattala on Saturdays and Sundays.

Several leading international carriers, including Emirates and Qatar Airways have shown keen interest in operating flights to MRIA, which is being promoted on an open skies policy without any binding obligations or regulations, mainly to avoid the congestion at BIA.

Another impressive factor at the MRIA is that its modern airstrip could facilitate landing of the latest Airbus 380. The 3,500m Cord 4F type run-way has a width of 75m with two Taxiways - a 360m length code F type with a width of 60m and a 550m code C type with a width of 25m. The MRIA is equipped with two modern aero bridges, which directly links an aeroplane to the main arrival terminal, including a code F type one which could facilitate an Airbus 380.

The MRIA has already secured a category 10 international certification and would be promoted as an eco-friendly international airport. Though it was initially planned to built the second international airport at Weerawila, the idea was later abandoned respecting adverse environmental reports.

But the 2,000 ha area for the MRIA is suitable for such projects and all environmental precautionary measures have been followed in constructing the airport. Initially, a total area of 800 ha have been used for the construction under stage one. There is enough area reserved for the second and third stages of the MRIA as it expands its operations in future.

A botanical garden and an IT Park too would emerge along with the new airport that would be a big boon for the travellers in Hambantota, Galle, Matara, Ampara, Batticaloa, Badulla and Moneragala districts.

The international air travel authority has already approved eight international routes from Mattala and the number would increase with the arrival of several other airlines which are negotiating landing rights at Mattala.

What is unique in the ultra-modern terminal is that it has wide range of facilities, including 12 check-in desks, 10 emigration desks and an equal number of immigration desks. There are provisions to expand the number of these counters once the MRIA expands its passenger capacity. Initially, the MRIA targets to host one million passengers a year.

Though some feared the opening of the MRIA would curtail the operations of the BIA, it would not be so and Mattala will always be promoted as the country’s second international airport. Apart from the one million passengers the MRIA targets within the first year, it will also plan to handle 45,000 mt of air cargo, which is a lucrative business.

Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne scoffed at rumours that the opening of MRIA will result in the closure of the BIA. MRIA has Sri Lanka’s only runway that could facilitate landing an Airbus 380. He added that many international airlines have shown keen interest to add Mattala as their latest international destination.

Chairman of the Airport and Aviation Services, Prasanna Wickremesuriya has worked hard to make Sri Lanka’s dream of a second international airport a reality. He said that the MRIA will be promoted as a transshipment hub that links to the Hambantota Magampura harbour and a bio-diversity theme park.

The location of Mattala close to the Yala sanctuary would enable foreign tourists to disembark at MRIA and tour the Southern area of the country, enjoying wildlife and sunny beaches.

On completion of the stage two of the construction and development work, the MRIA will be geared to cater to around seven million passengers per annum. However, that would never be a threat to the BIA operations and the country’s first international airport will be upgraded to 15 million passengers per annum by then.

The political sagacity of President Rajapaksa has enabled Sri Lanka to perform miracles and the construction of an international airport would certainly be a dream come true for all Sri Lankans. Those who scoffed at the idea of constructing another international airport four years ago will now have to eat humble pie as Mattala begins operations on a ceremonial note. It is definitely a dream come true for most Southerners and all Sri Lankans could feel proud of as Sri Lanka breaks new ground in its aviation history. Undoubtedly, the MRIA is another landmark achievement in Sri Lanka’s victorious march to become the Wonder of Asia.

 

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