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Fresh Cabinet nod for Rs. 1.95 b Palaly Airport revamp

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By Chathuri Dissanayake

The Cabinet has approved a proposal costing Rs. 1.95 billion, to develop Palaly Airport to operate regional commercial flights, the second on the project after it was first approved in October last year.  

The airport, located in Kankesanthurai, is set to be developed by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) as per the proposal presented by Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe as Minister of National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlements and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development and Youth Affairs. 

The project aims to develop the capacity of the airport to operate commercial flights, focused on operating domestic commercial flights to develop tourism. 

A similar proposal was approved on 23 October last year by the Prime Minister in his capacity as the Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, then Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga, and then Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, to develop Palaly Airport for scheduled domestic commercial passenger operations, and to carry out the developments activities of the said Airport expeditiously by the Sri Lanka Air Force with an investment of Rs. 1,965 million, the Cabinet Secretariat website records confirmed. This cabinet paper proposed to utilise funds from the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka.

The Cabinet paper had to be resubmitted as the proposal did not get confirmed by the same Cabinet, National Policies, Economic Affairs, Resettlements and Rehabilitation, Northern Province Development, Vocational Training and Skills Development and Youth Affairs Ministry Secretary V. Sivagnanasothy told Daily FT. 

“All papers presented then have to be re-presented as they never got confirmed,” he said.

The initial proposal has been made to develop the airport to receive a 100 passenger aircraft. 

As the first step developing the airport a feasibility study is to be conducted by Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka Ltd, Chairman Dammika Ranatunga told Daily FT. 

The technical specifications for development may undergo revision following the feasibility study, Daily FT learnt. 

At present, the proposal is to share the cost of development between the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Tourism Ministry, Ranatunga said. 

The proposal goes in line with the Government’s move to develop the domestic aviation industry, with focus on improving tourism industry, as outlined by the Cabinet paper presented by Transport Ministry in July last year,  seeking approval to work out a possible mechanism to utilise airports under SLAF management, which includes the Trincomalee, Sigiriya, Palaly, Hingurakgoda and Koggala airports. The paper proposed to develop the SLAF run airports in compliance with international standards, which requires the country’s Civil Aviation Authority to handle all domestic aviation. These airports will be made available for the carriers on a needs basis, while carrying out infrastructure development with both Government and donor funding.

Last year, the development of Palaly airport became a hot topic, after an idea was floated to utilise Indian funds for the project. Then Transport Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva was to make a statement in Parliament, about the Government’s plans to develop the military-managed airport with its own money.

However, following the feasibility study, decisions on funding may undergo changes depending on the cost, Ranatunga said. 

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