Today 18, March 2013, would be a red letter day in Sri Lanka’s aviation sector when Sri Lanka opens its second international airport. (MRIA) MRIA, Hambantota, Sri Lanka’s second ‘Gateway’ to the world, springs new hopes, aspirations, ambitions and excitement for Sri Lanka’s aviation industry, business, trade and leisure sectors, opening up a major growth opportunity for SriLankan Airlines.
The new airport would fulfill one of the longest infrastructure needs of the local aviation sector, a second international airport. Previously, airlines had to carry additional fuel and used to have back up plans in case they were unable to land in Colombo and with the opening of the MRIA, this major problem has been solved thus giving the airline additional savings.
Minster of Civil Aviation, Piyankara Jayaratne, said that one of the main reasons to build MRIC in Hambantota was the demand from the tourism sector where tourists wanted to start their tour by visiting wild life parks, (Yala) enjoy the sunny beaches in the Eastern province, cool themselves in the hill country, see the historic city of Kandy, followed by the cultural triangle and return via the Elephant orphanage in Pinnawela and finally enjoying the entertainment and shopping in Colombo, before departing.
The Mattala airport will also support the international cricket stadium, convention centre, harbour and most importantly the emerging economic zone and the International IT Park. MIRA will also be the only available air strip that could land the world’s largest aircraft, A380.
“We have reduced the fees of ground operations and airport fees in Mattala. In addition, we have introduced an “Open Sky Policy” which enables the landing of aircraft anytime in Mattala”. “In addition, we have mapped out several development plans for MRIA to refute allegations that Mattala was a White Elephant.”
SriLankan Airlines Chairman, Nishantha Wickramasingha, told Daily News Business that Sri Lankan Tourism can now aim at 2.5 million tourists in 2016. “The new airport would help Sri Lanka attract an additional million arrivals to the country,” he said.
Chairman, Airport Aviation Services, Prasanna Wickramasuriya, said that they have been marketing the MRIA for a long period and said that it had a sound business model to survive.
“We are targeting charter flights and logistic flights to use MRIA as it would be more viable for them as we have offered concessions,” he said. By providing water and fuel for aircraft and also providing maintenance services, the port can earn extra revenue which would be a commercially added advantage. All operations will be done through Katunayake. Aircraft landing at Mattala will fly through Katunayake. All flights operating through Shanghai, Beijing, Male, Riyadh, Buddha Gaya, etc. will fly to Mattala via Katunayake.
Two foreign airlines, flydubai and Air Arabia even before the completion of the airport, expressed their consent to start operations at Mattala and make it a destination for their flights.
In addition, several other airlines would be flying to MRIA soon. The cost of the project was funded by the Chinese Government. During the first phase, all basic facilities and requirements were completed, including a runway, taxiways and parking facilities. Any kind of airline in the world could land to Mattala International Airport. Mattala could accommodate massive aircraft such A 380 and even the largest aircraft Antanov 225.
The airport had been constructed as an eco-friendly airport, minimizing damage to the environment. During the second stage, aviation related facilities, such as a servicing and repairing centre for aircraft, pilot training centre, maintenance hub, private jet parking, technical training centres, hotels and many more facilities would be completed.
“SriLankan Airlines and Mihin, while operating several flights, plans to set up its Aviation Academy and a Maintenance Repair & Overhaul (MRO) facility with Lufthansa to expand its business in the South Asian region.” Catering for all flights that depart the MRIA; Engineering line maintenance support; and cargo handling whilst operating the airline’s own introductory schedule of flights, initially to the Maldives, the Middle East and China.
“For SriLankan Airlines, this is a quantum leap where we have the convenience of utilizing two international airports just 90.8 nautical miles apart, affording flexibility and new avenues for innovative expansion and development,” said SriLankan Airlines’ Chief Executive Officer, Kapila Chandrasena.
“We have recruited and we continue to recruit young Sri Lankans from new regions in the island, to enter lucrative careers in the dynamic aviation industry.”
Gunarathna said that the new airport commences its operations at a time the Tourism Industry of Sri Lanka was experiencing a steady growth, recording more than 46% annual growth over the years.
“As such, Sri Lanka Tourism is delighted to witness the opening of the MRIA and feel confident that it was definitely going to contribute in a mega scale for the development of tourism.”
These attractions are situated in close proximity to the Mattala Airport and introduced recently for tourists following the peaceful environment prevailing in these parts of the country, as a result of establishing peace, law and order by the Government of Sri Lanka.”
The strategic location of the new airport would also be significant in around the Eastern and Southern Provinces to serve the purpose of the frequent travellers who wish to travel at short transit times to visit tourism hot spots such as Nuwara Eliya Galle Arugam Bay, Yala National Park, Willpattu National Park, etc. Reaching these key tourism destinations from Mattala Airport is less time consuming than traveling from the Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.”
Veteran hosteller Chandra Wickramasinge of Maalu Maalu fame said that the MRIA would be a major boost to the development of tourism specially in the Eastern province. Tourists can now come to the East in less than three hours,” he said.
Chairman, Master Divers and Former Director of the Southern Development Authority, Ariyasiri Wickramanayaka told the Daily News Business that the new venture of opening the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) is a highly commendable step taken by the government.
“I am one of the pioneers who proposed to take this development into Hambantota. In fact, it was me who proposed to build the Hambantota port as Galle was not large enough. Therefore, I am happy that the new international airport is being built in Hambantota because it is where we are meant to be,” he said.
According to Wickramanayaka, Hambantota will be the next capital of Sri Lanka due to its ample space vacant for opportunity. According to him the fact that the airport and port, being bigger than the Katunayaka Airport and Colombo port, will attract many business opportunities.
“This is where we belong. Galle was the capital when the Dutch were here and Colombo was the capital when the British were here but now it is time we go back to the capital which was truly local and before the invasion, the late Magampura and the present Hambantota, we are going back home,” he said.
According to him opening the MRIA is a practical step as people would be drawn there business wise and it will be the future economic hub.
“If people want to earn a US $ 200 salary in future, Hambantota is the place to go, and that is were people will go to earn a good living as there is plenty of job opportunities,” he said.
Chief Executive Officer, Hambantota Chamber of Commerce, Krishanthi Weerasinghe said that Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport will bring in a lot of opportunities for the business community because of the development in the tourism sector.
She said that with the new airport, all the other areas in the vicinity, namely Tissamaharama, Tangalle, Belliatta and other towns will develop rapidly. Weerasinghe said that there is ample chance for the development of infrastructure facilities due to the opening of opportunities in the area.
The majority of land belongs to the government, therefore, the government could easily provide more opportunities for the development and attract foreign investments into the country.
General Manager, Peacock Beach Hotel, Nalin Fernando said that this area was neglected for sometime and with the opening of the new airport there would be a big boom in the hotel and tourism sector in the area.
He said this would be a great move by the government to create a window of opportunities not only to the area but also to the whole country. This airport would bring enormous opportunities to the country from medium to long term perspectives.
Meanwhile, taking an international visual aspect on the proceedings of MRIA, a delegation from Germany and France visited Sri Lanka to enter into deals regarding rubber with one of Sri Lanka’s well known Rubber exporting companies, said that it will ease their burden of travel and that the location, though is highly condemned is by no way an inconvenience.
According to these delegates they expect MRIA to reach the international standards and is sure that this new initiative will make way to increase the already expanding tourism industry. Taking a more general perspective, Daily News Business spoke to some constant travelers, former FedEx Sri Lanka Manager who travels as a hobby said that the MRIA will actually increase the convenience of travel as there might be less traffic in reaching the airport.
“The MRIA is bigger than the Katunayaka International Airport and thus, in my opinion, traveling from Sri Lanka is about to be a more comfortable experience,” he said.