Taking to the skies again

By D.V. Chanaka 

The Covid-19 pandemic had a huge impact on the international aviation sector. Sri Lanka also faced the same situation due the pandemic. Thousands of aircrafts had to be grounded, as never before, in the face of an unprecedented downturn in the global economy. Airline industry can be mentioned as the first field in the world economy that was affected badly due to the pandemic.

Under the circumstances that prevailed, we too had to shut down the country’s airports. However, transforming the pandemic situation to our benefit, the Government took steps to develop the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) as suited to future requirements and demand.

The main factor for this was former President and incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa taking steps to initiate a number of special development activities at the BIA during his presidency.

However, the country incurred a loss of Rs. 16 billion due to the suspension of the BIA development project by the Good Governance Government. The suspension of this project deprived the country of an opportunity to complete it several years ago.

Nonetheless, due to the intervention by Prime Minister Rajapaksa, the country was able to obtain financial assistance from the Japanese Government for this project. Accordingly, the development projects “Package A” and “Package B” commenced and were expedited.

The main objective of this endeavour was to increase the annual air passenger capacity to 15 million. As of now, the capacity to handle passengers at BIA stands around 6 million annually. However, even now, a passenger movement of 11 million is being carried out and with the new development plan being implemented, it will be possible to handle 15 million passengers at BIA annually. It is also intended to double the current rate of annual 60,000 flights movement at the BIA.

With the new aircraft apron, which will be vested to the public today (25), the number of aircraft that can be parked will increase from 26 to 48. This would be a turning point in the field of air travel in Sri Lanka.

The vision of President Gotabahaya Rajapaksa is to make Sri Lanka an aviation hub in the region. It is a fact that will contribute not only to the tourism industry but directly to the improvement of the process of manufacture and export. Required steps have already been taken to transform the airport into the best in the region and it has been ensured that the airport is well-equipped for that in every sector.

Accordingly, the extent of the terminal area which was 90,000 m2 will be increased up to 275,000 m2. The number of check-in counters will be increased from 53 to 149. Instead of 21 emigration (departure) desks there will be 53 in all, as well as 83 immigration (arrival) windows instead of the current 27. The air-side security control areas will be increased from eight to 30. Other facilities will also be improved in conjunction with this.

Up-to-date technology has been implemented to enable passengers to register in a contactless manner as well. We have been able to bring up BIA into the best first-hundred airports in the world.

The intention of the Ministry of Aviation and Export Zone Development is to ensure that every air passenger will be able to reach their destination without any inconvenience and provide strength through the airport to the economy of this country.

(The writer is State Minister of Aviation and Export Zones Development)