By Shailendree Wickrama Adittiya
Scheduled international regional flight operations resumed from Colombo International Airport, Ratmalana (CIAR) with the arrival of the Q2 944 Dash 8 Maldivian flight from Velana International Airport, Maldives at 8:45 a.m. yesterday.
The new taxiway and overlaid apron at CIAR was also opened yesterday, in the presence of Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa, State Minister of Regional Co-Operation Tharaka Balasuriya, State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development D.V. Chanaka, High Commissioner of the Maldives to Sri Lanka Omar Abdul Razzak, Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka (AASL) Chairman Maj. Gen. (Retd.) G.A. Chandrasiri and many others.
Scheduled international flights from CIAR are commencing after five decades, with flights to and from Maldives three times a week. According to AASL, flights will operate on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday.
Maldivian Managing Director Mohamed Mihad said the number of flights will be increased in the coming months.
“We are starting this route with this flight and will take a break during Ramadan,” he said, adding that operations will continue with three weekly flights after Ramadan.
In addition to the recommencement of scheduled international flights, major development projects have taken place at CIAR. This includes the expansion of facilities like banking, hotel and taxi services, communication services, and dining.
Shedding light on the various development projects targeting the international airports in the country, Youth and Sports Minister Namal Rajapaksa said: “We, as a Government, are committed to developing the tourism industry as well as the aviation industry.”
He added that new visa schemes will be introduced, like the Paradise Visa for long-term travellers.
State Minister D.V. Chanaka said discussions have been held with Rajapaksa on digitalisation as well. “By integrating these technologies at the Ratmalana Airport in future we hope that passengers can leave the airport within 15 to 20 minutes,” he added.
He went on to say that discussions are also to be held this week on the development of tourism for budget travellers.
Talking about the challenges faced by the aviation industry, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic, D.V. Chanaka said: “When we took over the new ministry, not a single international airport was operational in the country. Despite having international airports, all airports were closed.”
He added that starting with the Bandaranaike International Airport and then Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, international flights have now commenced from CIAR as well.
“Maldives has always been the closest neighbour as well as good friend to Sri Lanka,” State Minister Chanaka said, adding that relations between the countries have been maintained over the years in many areas like education, health, tourism, and culture.
Commencing flights from CIAR to Maldives will benefit Sri Lankans, tourists as well as the 14,000 Maldivians living in surrounding areas to the airport. There was thus potential of increasing the number of flights, the State Minister said.
He added that an invitation has also been extended to India to commence flights to Colombo International Airport and discussions will be held in future.
AASL Chairman Chandrasiri touched on the ideal location of CIAR, which is in close proximity to State institutions, embassies, business organisations, luxury hotels and apartments, and shopping malls.
He added that the development of CIAR and long-term strategic goals will also contribute to the country’s socioeconomic development.
Pic by Kithsiri de Mel