China’s contribution to develop Sri Lanka’s aviation sector

Tuesday, 16 September 2014 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The ‘Mahinda Chinthana – Vision for the future’, the manifesto of President Mahinda Rajapaksa envisioned for the first time that Sri Lanka shall attain hub status in five key areas namely commerce, energy, maritime, aviation and knowledge. Spurred by this vision, Sri Lanka has embarked on development of unprecedented proportions and today we are at an important point in history attracting the attention of the world as the emerging wonder of Asia. The People’s Republic of China and its people have always been an integral part of Sri Lanka’s development. The government of China has been a consistent provider of developmental aid to Sri Lanka from the beginning of the post independent period. The two countries share cultural and religious ties dating back to centuries. It is in this backdrop that the president of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping is scheduled to make a state visit to Sri Lanka. Airport & Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited warmly welcomes Xi Jinping, Peng Liyuan and the distinguished delegates upon their arrival at the Bandaranaike International Airport on 16 September 2014.  As the government owned company operating and managing airport infrastructure in Sri Lanka, they look forward to the event while looking back with gratitude at the valuable contributions made by the Republic of China towards Sri Lanka’s airport development projects. Our second international airport, the Mattala-Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) is monumental of the generosity and the best wishes of the Peoples’ Republic of China. This airport was commissioned in March, 2013 and a major source of funds was a loan from the People’s Republic of China arranged through the China Exim Bank. Mattala-Rajapaksa International Airport development project mainly comprises the development of 2,000 hectares of land situated in Mattala, Hambantota into a modern airport city integrated with the Greater Hambantota Development Plan. As the first stage, an extent of 800 hectares of land was identified for development and 400 hectares of that was set aside for main airport infrastructure. The airport infrastructure consisted of a 3.5 km long, 60 metres wide runway, a perpendicular taxiway of length 360 metres and 25 metres wide and an apron area of approximately 7,500 square metres. The first stage also included the construction of a terminal building of approximately 12,000 square metres of floor area complete with international airport facilities comprising customs, immigration, lounges and duty free shopping areas. A cargo terminal was also constructed. An iconic Air Traffic Control tower of height 41 metres was constructed as a part of the Navigational Services Complex which incidentally is the tallest man made structure in the area at present. A modern Airport Fire & Rescue Station was established to provide category 10 airport fire services. The airport also has visual landing guides as well as state of the art navigational aids vital for safe navigation of arriving and departing aircraft. The airport is strategically located with respect to International Air Routes and all the major destinations of the world except those in the American continent are reachable through a maximum of six hours of flying time making it an ideal transit point between the east and the west. Within the island too it is located close to all major tourist destinations. To name a few, Hikkaduwa with the world famous coral reefs is only 150 km away. Arugam Bay, the popular surfing resort of the east is only 190 km away. Nuwara Eliya, the city with the highest elevation where the finest blend of world famous Ceylon Tea is grown is only 94 km away. Ratnapura, the city of gems and home for the blue sapphire is only 100 km away. Kandy, the hill capital which is also home to the revered temple of the tooth is only 125 km away. The world famous wild life sanctuary at Yala where there is always a good chance of spotting a leopard is just 66 km away. Commissioning of an International Airport at Mattala has brought about a host of new job opportunities especially for the youth in the southern rural areas. It has also generated a lot of new business opportunities to the people in the area whose livelihood was predominantly chena cultivation. The airport has given them a rapid export path for their products. Most of these comprise perishable cargo such as fruits, flowers and dairy products and the possibility of exporting them as air cargo directly from MRIA instead of taking them by road to Colombo for export has become a tremendous boon to them. The airport has thus integrated very well with the livelihoods of the people of the area and has formed an economy of its own. The airport is 20 km north of the new Magam Ruhunupura Mahinda Rajapaksa sea-port (MRMRP) in Hambantota and this provides great geographical advantage. The airport is geared for air-sea cargo trans-shipment in conjunction with the port which is a boon to the logistics industry. The availability of an international airport close to the sea port is a tremendous asset to all types of services the port is geared to provide to the vessels docking there. MRIA is 90 nautical miles south east of BIA and is the designated alternative for BIA. The availability of an alternative airport within the geographical extent of Sri Lanka results in a tremendous operational saving to aircraft operating to BIA. This saving results from the possibility for aircraft to carry less fuel required for emergency diversions when flying to BIA and thereby carry more payload. The MRIA has been designed taking the Airbus A380 as the ‘design aircraft’. This automatically ensured that all infrastructures are of adequate capacity to match the operational parameters of this aircraft. The ability to support ultra-high capacity aircraft has prompted many airlines to consider MRIA as a possible emergency station and switch to air routes that are close to MRIA. This has resulted in a considerable increase in the overflying air traffic through the Colombo Flight Information Region. Another salient feature of MRIA is its full compliance with the Sri Lankan government’s green development initiative and was designed to operate as a green airport from day one. The airport construction project commenced on 27 November 2009 and the airport was commissioned on 18 March 2013, after three years and four months, on completion of the first phase. The establishment of MRIA together with the well established BIA which is also being further developed will pave the way for Sri Lanka to achieve hub status in aviation. People of Sri Lanka are extremely grateful to the People’s Republic of China for the valuable assistance received for the historic development of Sri Lanka’s aviation industry in a very short span of time.