India risks losing out on Mattala

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

The Government is seeking fresh proposals from local and foreign investors to manage the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA).

State Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Ashok Abeysinghe said that talks with India to manage the loss making airport have not been scrapped, but other proposals will be considered as well.

He told The Sunday Morning that the MRIA would be developed as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis and the total expected investment would be around $ 200 million.

“We have not come to an agreement with India yet. Earlier they had not agreed to the estimate made by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), but now they have informed us that they are in agreement with the estimate,” the State Minister said.

He said that former Minister of Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva had discussions with Indian investors and the current Minister Arjuna Ranatunga will continue the discussions.

Abeysinghe said that if there are new proposals from locals or foreigners, the Government would consider them as well before finalizing an agreement.

Highlighting that there were few local investors who were interested in developing several areas of the MRIA, the State Minister noted that the MRIA would be developed as whole and therefore it would be given to a single investor.

The airport was officially opened in March, 2013 but was operating at a loss since then. The facility was built at a cost of $ 210 million by the previous regime.

Fly Dubai was the last airline to operate commercial flights to MRIA, but last year it terminated its operations.

In addition to the development of MRIA, Abeysinghe said the Government couldn’t be happy with the performances of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) as well and therefore there would be a separate mechanism to increase the number of flight operated per day.

According to him, the BIA handles only six flights per hour and the Government’s aim was to increase it to twelve flights this year.

“In other countries the ratio was like 1:1 but as Sri Lanka is a small country compared to other countries in the world the aim of the Ministry is to bring the ratio into one flight for every five minutes,” he said.