July 06, Colombo: Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva says that the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) in Hambantota currently running at a great loss will be developed with a joint venture with India as a commercial airport.
"We need to rebuild the airport as a commercial airport. We will not sell paddy at the airport. We will not sell it to anyone," the Civil Aviation Minister told parliament today speaking at the adjournment motion moved by the Opposition.
He said that the MRIA was running at a major loss of Rs. 20 billion and an international partner is needed to revive the airport which has earned the recognition as the "World's emptiest airport"
Fly Dubai, the only airline that was flying to the MRIA recently terminated its operations to the facility built at a cost of US$ 210 million by the previous regime.
The Minister said the Fly Dubai terminated operations not because of the government wants to sell the airport to India.
"Fly Dubai had a problem because of the birds in the area. We gave a temporary relief during the season when bird population is high. SriLankan also said it was not possible to fly to Mattala as not many people are coming," the Minister explained.
He said an international partner is required in order to revive the airport a profitable institution.
"We want to build the airport built at the wrong place at the wrong time and we are seeking investors. We advertised in foreign newspapers requesting proposals but none of the proposals we received were suitable," he continued.
Denying the charge that Sri Lanka is handing over the airport to balance if influence of China which was given the Hambantota Port to operate, the Minister said only India has agreed to form a joint venture with Sri Lanka to develop the former president's namesake airport.
The Minister said the joint venture would see India gain a major stake of the airport, adding that "we are in discussion with the Indians for the joint venture."
However, the Minister stressed that there will be conditions. "This is only the airport. No Indian personnel allowed in security affairs. If needed, the bill will be changed.
The Minister assured that the airport will not be sold. Already, a feasibility study has been started to extend the railway line from Matara to Beliatta to the airport.