Mar 18, Colombo: Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa declaring open the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport said today the airport is a massive investment on behalf of the future generation of the country.
President Rajapaksa commissioned the airport with his arrival in a special SriLankan Airlines flight named as "City of Ruhunu Magampura" with First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and other dignitaries.
After unveiling a plaque to mark the opening and signing the golden book as the first visitor, the President accompanied by ministers and other officials inspected all the facilities of the airport. A Minister of Posts Jeevan Kumaratunga issued a commemorative stamp and a first day cover to mark the opening of airport.
A SriLankan flight from Dubai, UL226, arranged by the Upul Travels landed at the airport few minutes later, making it the first international flight to reach Mattala.
Addressing local and foreign representatives and the guests who had arrived for the inauguration of the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, President Rajapaksa briefed the development of the airport built with China's financial assistance and explained that when aircraft start landing at the Mattala Airport, a growth in the area and the country will take place.
The international Airport will become an asset to build Sri Lanka's image in the world by staging Sports Festivals as well as international conferences, the President pointed out.
The Mattala Airport is located in the vicinity of the Hambantota Port and the Hambantota International Cricket Stadium and is in close proximity to the Yala National Park, Udawalawe Elephant reserve and several religious and historic places.
Pointing out that there will be critics the President said the posterity will respond to them when they reap benefits and people and the region would be benefited from the investment.
"We have been criticized for taking loans to build this airport, it (the loan) was not for consumption but to build infrastructure," he said.
President Rajapaksa expressed his appreciation to China for the financial support given by the Export and Imports Bank of China to construct the airport at a cost of US$ 209 million.
Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services Limited Prasanna Wickramasuriya says the need of a second international airport was a long felt requirement of the country. Although the Katunayake airport has a passenger capacity of 6 million it has handled more than 8 million passengers last year.
A flight of Sharjah-based budget carrier Air Arabia landed at the airport making it the first international airline to reach the Mattala Airport. A Dubai Airlines flight also landed at the airport today.
Civil Aviation Minister Priyankara Jayaratne said number of international airlines will commence their flights to Mattala from tomorrow. The airport will become the aviation maintenance hub of South Asia, he added.
Germany's Lufthansa Aviation has agreed to establish an international aviation maintenance service at the Mattala airport premises at a cost of US$ 87 million. The Cabinet has approved the project.
(Photos by Sudath Silva)