India to operate “world’s emptiest airport” in Sri Lanka

The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport would be operated as a Sri Lanka-India joint venture, Sri Lankan government tells Parliament

July 06, 2018 12:05 pm | Updated 01:22 pm IST - Colombo

This April 2018 photo shows the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov 225 making refuelling stop at Mattala airport. The airport, built and named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

This April 2018 photo shows the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov 225 making refuelling stop at Mattala airport. The airport, built and named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

India would operate Sri Lanka’s loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota, the Civil Aviation Minister has told Sri Lankan Parliament in Colombo.

The $210 million facility, 241km south-east of Colombo, is dubbed the “world’s emptiest airport” due to a lack of flights.

India would operate the airport as a Sri Lanka-India joint venture. The joint venture would see India gain a major stake of the airport, Minister of Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva told the Parliament.

“We need to revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss of rupees 20 billion,” he said.

The final terms of the agreement, however, remains to be worked out, the minister said.

Opposition legislator Kanaka Herath asked if the Mattala airport adjoining the Hambantota seaport is to be handed over to India to please the super powers India and China.

Mr. De Silva denied the charge and said that in 2016, the government had invited proposals from interested international investors to run the airport.

“Only India offered to help us. Now we are in discussion with the Indians for the joint venture,” Mr. de Silva said.

Mattala airport, named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, was one of the major infrastructure projects of Mr. Rajapaksa’s nearly a decade-long rule. The project was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans. The airport, built with the capacity to handle one million passengers a year, was officially opened in March 2013.

The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.

The seaport built in Hambantota, another Rajapaksa pet project, has been leased to China to set off Chinese loans as equity.

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