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Second international airport would attract additional forex:

MRIA will match Gatwick soon



Aviation Minister, Priyankara Jayaratne

Chairman, Airport Aviation,
Prasanna Wickramasuriya

For some people and opposition politicians commissioning an international airport is all about aircraft landing and taking off. They count the number of flights per day that land at an airport and judge the success of the endeavour.

When the Gatwick airport in London opened, there were days when a single aircraft would land and take off from Gatwick and it was connected by a single road only.

When I had to fly to Berlin to cover the World Tourism Market I chose Gatwick to get my connection from London as there are a countless number of air connections, trains, buses and taxi links from the city and from the Heathrow airport to Gatwick.

Today, Gatwick is one of the busiest airports in the world and due to the self check-in facility one needs to go to the airport only an hour before the flight.

The success story of Gatwick is repeated all over the world when it comes to the opening of new airports and is sure to follow the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) opened on March 18 making it a red letter day in the South Asian aviation history.

History states the concept of an aircraft first appeared in world history in the legend of Ravana. The ancient pride of’ Sri Lanka has been re-established with the opening of the MRIA.

With the positive revolutionary change in the economic, social and political situation in Sri Lanka a second international gateway has been a crying need for several decades.

The government has succeeded in building a country, equipped with all commercial facilities to compete in the international arena of the rapidly developing world.

The Airport, built in keeping with the Mahinda Chinthana concept of “Winning the blue sky” as part of Sri Lanka’s quest to become the Wonder of Asia, will be a boon to the local aviation industry while being a catalyst for the economic development of the Southern Province and many other bordering provinces enabling international trade and tourism, among other benefits.

A second international airport was a proposal that was looked down by successive political leaders.

The international naval and sea routes which run east to west is situated in close proximity to Hambantota and the opening of the airport will create new commercial trade opportunities not only to the Southern province but to the other bordering provinces as well, creating new employment opportunities and stimulating economic growth.

The new airport would be a boost for the travel trade development as it would attract additional foreign exchange. The Katunayake airport too is to be expanded and modernised to take the country towards a regional aviation hub.

The opening of the airport would help uplift the living pattern of the people in the region and pave the way for better living conditions.


The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport

Initiated by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and completed by several state agencies under the stewardship of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the project complements many other ongoing endeavours to raise the living standards of the people not only in Hambantota, but in nearby districts such as Ampara, Matara and Monaragala.

The new Airport would serve as a cargo hub to many provinces with the already established Magampura Mahinda Rajapaksa Port.

MRIA is a symbol of Sri Lanka’s growing economic stature internationally especially when Hambantota hosts the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government (CHOGM) Youth Forum.

The airport will not merely function to exchange passengers and commodities but also as the aviation hub which displays the beauty and the pride of Sri Lanka to the world. The Chinese government special envoy Luo Fuha, Vice Chairman of CPPCC of China speaking at the inaugural ceremony of MRIA said the newly appointed government of the People’s Republic of China is committed to further strengthen the mutual cooperation between Sri Lanka and China in the fields of economic, social, political, cultural and other areas.

The Aviation Minister, Priyankara Jayaratne said the opening of the second international airport fills a great void in the country. “Sri Lanka after achieving peace now sees an upsurge in tourism and is targeting the arrival of over 2.5 million tourists by 2016. I am sure that with the addition of MRIA, Sri Lanka can now look for an additional one million tourists for 2013.

”Some have raised questions as to why Hambantota was selected to build the second international airport.

“One of the main reasons is the demand from the tourism sector to start the tour by visiting wildlife 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 enjoy entertainment and shopping in Colombo before departing,” the Minister said.

He said, the Mattala airport will also support the International Cricket Stadium, Convention Centre, harbour and most importantly the emerging economy zone and the International IT Park. MRIA will be the only available air strip that could land the world’s biggest aircraft, A380.

“We have observed that there are over 100 aircraft that fly over Sri Lanka and our aim is to get some of them to land in Sri Lanka. Already several international airlines would be flying to MRIA, to refuel and obtain supplies giving the country additional revenue.

”The agriculture industry too would benefit since the farmers will get an opportunity ‘for direct exports’, eliminating the middle man.

”It is not easy to introduce a new international airport, to the aviation companies in the world and to overcome this we have reduced the ground operation and airport fees in Mattala. In addition we introduced the “Open Sky Policy “to enable the landing of an aircraft anytime at Mattala”, the Minister said. SriLankan airlines plans to establish an Aircraft Repair and Maintenance Centre (MRO) for aircraft with the assistance of “Lufthansa” Company in Germany thus bringing a haul of economic benefits, the Minister said.

Veteran hotelier Chandra Wickramasinge of Maalu Maalu said the MRIA would be a major boost for the development of tourism especially in the Eastern Province. Tourists can now come to the East in less than three hours,” he said.

The Colombo Airport will be modernized to cater to 7.2 million passengers from the present capacity of six million said Chairman Airport Aviation, Prasanna Wickramasuriya. The chairman, said they have been marketing the MRIA for a long period and it had a sound business model to survive.

He said “We are targeting charter flights and logistic flights to use MRIA as it would be more viable for them as we have offered concessions. By providing water and fuel for aircraft and maintenance services, the port can earn extra revenue.


The Gatwick Airport in London

All operations will be through Katunayake. Aircraft landing at Mattala will fly through Katunayake. All flights operating through Shanghai, Beijing, Male, Riyadh and Buddha Gaya, will fly to Mattala via Katunayake.

”Two foreign airlines, Flydubai, and Air Arabia even before the completion of the airport, expressed consent to start operations at Mattala and make it a destination for their flights. ”Several other international airlines and charter flight companies will be adding MRIA to their radar soon. Currently, Air Arabia will operate services every Monday and Friday and is the first international airline to launch operations to MRIA.

The Dubai based airline will increase its frequency by two in May and launch daily operations from September 14.

”It would make Air Arabia the first ever international airline to have a daily frequency to MRIA and operate 14 weekly flights to Colombo and Mattala. In addition to Flydubai, another low cost carrier in UAE, will add MRIA as one of their destinations beginning May 3 and increase their frequency to daily operations by the year end,” the Chairman said.

He said, “both flights touched down in MRIA for the inauguration and picked up nearly 120 passengers on their return.

”Qatar Etihad Airlines are expected to touch down in MRIA, while Emirates had expressed willingness to fly to Mattala. Two leading charter operators, TUI and Enter Air, too are expected to commence charters from next winter.

”The national carrier, SriLankan’s Male, Shanghai, Riyadh, Beijing and some Bangkok bound flights would be operating via Mattala as stopover flights.

They would have 25 weekly flights touching down in Mattala. Mihin Lanka too would operate stopover flights.

”The cargo terminal was now fully functional and the Air Arabian management is looking at building a hotel in MRIA. It is a 50 room hotel and the land would be provided within the airport premises.

”Two investors have forwarded proposals to set up Pilot Training Schools in MRIA. We are currently evaluating them to ensure that MRIA is not a white elephant and is a major contributor to take Sri Lanka towards the Wonder of Asia”, the Chairman said.

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