AASL Chief outlines future of aviation at AmCham forum

Monday, 30 January 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The American Chamber of in Sri Lanka (AmCham) organised a luncheon seminar on ‘The Future of The Aviation Industry in Sri Lanka’ on Friday, 20 January 2012, at the Hilton Colombo. Airport & Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited Chairman Prasanna Wickramasuriya was the guest speaker at this occasion.

Wickramasuriya’s presentation covered the present status of the Sri Lankan aviation industry and the plans for its future. Wickramasuriya commenced his presentation with a slide depicting the findings of the periodic safety audit conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in 2010.

As per the findings of the ICAO, Sri Lanka ranks at the fourth place in the Asia Pacific Region. Korea, Singapore and Japan are the 3 countries ahead of Sri Lanka. China, New Zealand and Australia presently rank below. Sri Lanka is also very much above the world average which is around 60%.

This splendid safety record which amounts to a national achievement is attributed to the very effective and stringent safety measures adopted by the industry. Describing the progress of the aviation industry as mostly been event driven, Wickramasuriya stated that its contribution to the national economy has been significant.

The Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) which is the only international airport in the island at present can handle six million passenger movements and 250,000 metric tons of cargo throughput during an year. It is capable of handling 25 air side movements (landing and take-off), during the busy hour.

At present, it is operating close to these capacity figures and last year the passenger movement figure has even been exceeded. Showing the audience the rapid growth in these figures, the AASL Chairman mentioned that by 2015, passenger movements will reach the 15 million mark and the cargo throughput will reach the figure of 350,000 metric tons.

The Bandaranaike International Airport presently caters to 32 airlines operating via 52 air routes. The national carrier SriLankan Airlines as well as the budget airline Mihin Air both use BIA as their home base.

The ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Vision for the future,’ the President’s manifesto, envisages that Sri Lanka becomes an aviation hub among other things. Wickramasuriya stated that in becoming an aviation hub, there were many factors that were poised in Sri Lanka’s favour and there were several things that must be put in place as well.

In order to cater to the growing demand for capacity at BIA, AASL plans to undertake the second stage of phase 2 of the BIA development project that has been carried out in a phased manner over a long time period. On conclusion of this phase of the project, the passenger handling capacity will rise by an additional seven million movements per year. This will include an additional pier on the western side parallel to the existing pier, two level terminal for departure and arrival as found in most major airports, new domestic terminal and a brand new duty free shopping arcade.

Speaking about the domestic aviation sector, Wickramasuriya expressed the view that although Sri Lanka was s a small island, an effective domestic aviation network linking major locations and the international airports in the island would serve national interests very well.

The main advantage for airlines would be the ability to offer ultimate destinations like Sigiriya or Ampara from the passengers’ point of origin. Four existing airports have been identified for initial development.

Ratmalana Airport in addition to being developed as a domestic airport is to be developed as a City Airport for the capital as well, so that it can accommodate international traffic of low capacity private jets. This will free such traffic from uneconomically tying down high capacity infrastructure at the international airport.

Wickramasuriya invited airline operators to consider starting more domestic operations and also stated that hangar space and other infrastructure facilities could be made available at the domestic airports, to set up ventures such as flying schools, engineering schools, etc.

The part of AASL Chairman’s presentation that dealt with the new international airport being constructed at Mattala, Hambantota attracted wide interest from the audience.

Wickramasuriya stated that the new airport from its initial construction through its subsequent operations would be very environment friendly. It is being developed as a model airport city.

Wickramasuriya also spoke of the opportunities for the freight forwarding industry for air-sea transhipment in conjunction with Hambantota Port and for the tourism industry to promote fly-cruise packages where the tourists arrive by sea and return by air. This is gaining popularity worldwide as an attractive holiday option for tourists who cannot afford the time for a two-way voyage.

Hambantota Airport development project opens the door for many investment opportunities. There will be direct aviation related ventures such as MRO (Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul facilities) for airlines, aircraft painting workshops, flying schools and aerospace engineering schools, clean and light aviation related manufacturing.

There will also be room for indirect aviation related ventures such as hospitality, tourism, recreation and leisure, adventure, freight forwarding, courier services, and transportation. Associated ventures such as industrial parks (manufacturing, packaging), knowledge parks (schools, academies, universities), convention centres (business promotion, agency services), etc., will also have investment opportunities. Concessions will be available for early birds.

Wickramasuriya also informed the audience that proposals had been requested for the Airport Free Zone at Hambantota. Highlighting the investment opportunities that have been identified, he invited the audience to visit the AASL website www.airport.lk for more details.

The audience was treated to a conceptual video of the new airport lucidly illustrating its facilities in colourful 3D animations. Concluding the presentation, Wickramasuriya provided a live video connection to the airport construction site at Mattala for the audience to see the construction work in progress. The audience also got a convenient opportunity to catch a glimpse of the work that has already been completed.

AmCham President Vijaya Ratnayake in his welcome address stated that this was the first of a series of meetings planned by AmCham to focus on the post war plan for the development of the aviation industry and the new opportunities created therein.

As a follow-up AmCham hopes to have a sector specific round table discussion with industry experts in all aspects of aviation participating to bring forward their concerns and suggestions so that the chamber would be in a position to submit the final report in the form of a white paper to the appropriate authorities in the Government.

The event was attended by around 120 participants including industry specialists and other eminent personalities. The event was sponsored by Infotechs (Pvt) Ltd.