A landmark in country’s aviation history
History will be created when President
Mahinda Rajapaksa opens the newly constructed Mattala Rajapaksa
International Airport in Hambantota tomorrow. Undoubtedly, this will be
another significant milestone in Sri Lanka’s ambitious march towards its
goal of becoming the Wonder of Asia. At the time the Security Forces did
their utmost to protect the only international airport at Katunayake
from LTTE terror attacks, barely anybody even in their wildest dreams
guessed that the country would before long get another international
President Rajapaksa’s political sagacity and vision helped the
country to score another first with the end of terrorism. The dawn of
peace has opened new horizons for Sri Lankans and the Mattala Rajapaksa
International Airport (MRIA) is one of the many mega development
projects completed after President Rajapaksa took office in November
These gigantic achievements will be written in letters of gold in Sri
Lanka’s chequered history. While expanding operations of the Colombo
harbour for the first time since independence, a new international port
was constructed in Hambantota. The Magampura Rajapaksa Harbour is just a
17-minute drive from the new MRIA, thereby commissioning a new sea-air
transportation hub in the Southern Province.
President Rajapaksa became the Head of State at a crucial time when
the nation faced an uncertain future. Thousands of people fell victim to
LTTE terror and the country’s economy was on the verge of near collapse.
The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) at Katunayake, the only
international airport came under attack by LTTE terrorists on three
occasions, cutting Sri Lanka off from the international aviation map.
This was indeed a severe blow to the country’s travel and tourism
From the day the LTTE was crushed militarily almost four years ago,
the country has achieved many milestones in every sector. While
providing people in the North and the East a new lease of life with
speedy resettlement and livelihood, the UPFA Government, led by
President Rajapaksa, has embarked on an ambitious development drive. The
Mahinda Chinthana has set in motion mega development projects ranging
from the construction of super highways to ports, mega reservoirs to
hydro power generation projects, express rail tracks to ports, ultra
modern sports stadia to coal power projects.
A few years ago, Mattala was a little-known remote village in the
Hambantota district. Even the road network was in a deplorable state,
let alone air travel. Nevertheless, this hamlet will now become the
latest destination on the international aviation map, opening ample
opportunities not only for the people in the area, but also for all Sri
Those who scoffed at the idea of constructing another international
airport a few years ago will now have to eat humble pie with the MRIA
launching operations tomorrow. Although sceptics said it would be a
daunting task to find huge funds to construct a new airport, the
President made it a reality.
It is a crying shame that some Opposition politicians fail to see
these positive developments beyond their nose and concoct negative
stories to mislead the public. They should, at least now, desist from
descending to such a low level to gain petty political mileage. The UNP,
which brags about its so-called achievements, was unable to provide even
a solitary job in the public sector when Ranil Wickremesinghe was the
On the other hand, the JVP is unable to put a brake on its fast
eroding vote base. They never, for a moment, guessed that mega
development projects of this magnitude would see the light of day in the
Southern Province, where they had their highest vote base. The masses
could no longer be fooled by the UNP and JVP’s canards and the gloomy
picture projected by them on investments.
It is regretted that the UNP’s so-called economic pundits don’t seem
to realise that an investment on an international airport would be a
boon to the country. It is an investment for the future and the masses
would benefit in the long run. The MRIA could facilitate even the most
modern aircraft in the world such as the Airbus A380, which the BIA
runway cannot accommodate.
The 3,500m Cord 4F type runway at the MRIA 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 aircraft to the main arrival
terminal, including an F code F type which could facilitate an Airbus
The Opposition never expected the Government to invest on such mega
development projects while spending a colossal sum of money for the
battle against terrorism from 2006 to 2009. The economy was managed well
even during the height of the economic recession that hit Asia and
Europe. Hence, Sri Lanka achieved all these victories with the steady
A myriad new job opportunities in various fields would be created for
people in the area with Hambantota emerging as a commercial hub. The
MRIA and the Southern city of Hambantota will be developed as a sea-air
Opposition politicians who were pessimistic about the Mattala airport
project never dreamt that it would launch international flights. Four
international airlines have already unveiled their international
schedules from Mattala tomorrow while several other international
airlines are now holding discussions for landing rights at Mattala.
Global players such as Emirates and Qatar Airways could soon pick
Mattala as their latest destination. Apart from regular SriLankan
Airlines and Mihin Lanka flights, Air Arabia and China Eastern Airlines
will also operate flights to Mattala.
China 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 Buddha Gaya.
The national carrier, SriLankan Airlines will operate three flights a
week to Riyadh from Mattala. There would be another flight from the BIA
to Beijing via Mattala operated by 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.
Apart from passenger transportation, the MRIA would generate
considerable foreign exchange by servicing international aircraft,
supplying aviation fuel and cargo transportation. It would ease
congestion at the BIA and assist exporters in the Southern Province and
the adjoining Uva, Sabaragamuwa and the Eastern Provinces to reduce the
This would also help cut down costs in transporting export products
all the way to Colombo.
The MRIA’s open skies policy without any binding obligations or
regulations, would certainly attract more international airlines in the
future, thereby avoiding congestion at the BIA. The MRIA will also be
promoted as an eco-friendly international airport. Whilst utilising
international expertise and the latest techniques, the MRIA has
preserved the nation’s identity in its architecture.
More importantly, a land area of 2,000 ha. have been reserved for the
MRIA, though 800 ha. have been used for stage one. Hence, there is
plenty of land in the vicinity as the MRIA makes its mark and becomes
one of the most sought-after airports in the world.
Mattala’s close proximity to the Yala sanctuary would woo
international travellers on transit in Mattala for a memorable safari in
one of the most beautiful natural parks in the world. A botanical garden
and an IT park would also be set up, adding more value to the nation’s
second international airport.
The masses will not be misled by the Opposition’s claims that the
MRIA opening would curtail BIA operations. The Mattala airport will
initially target one million passengers per year and it would be
increased in the near future. Simultaneously, the BIA’s passenger
capacity too will be doubled in the next five years.
With the launch of the MRIA, we remember with profound gratitude the
untiring efforts of Airport and Aviation Services Chairman, Prasanna
Wickremesuriya who spared no pains to make Sri Lanka’s dream of a second
international airport a reality. His sole objective is to promote
Mattala as a transshipment hub that links the Hambantota Magampura
harbour and a bio-diversity theme park.
Had it not been for President Rajapaksa’s dynamic vision, these
gigantic tasks would have been only a distant dream.