Sri Lanka is set to establish another world record as its second international airport was left without a single scheduled flight from today (June 8) after the only airline using the jinxed facility scrapped its daily service.
Dubai’s Flydubai announced the sudden withdrawal from the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) and offered to refund tickets of a handful who had bought tickets or re-route them to Colombo.
The airport, 250-kilometre (150-mile) drive from the capital Colombo — is located near wildlife sanctuaries and smack in the middle of a migratory route for birds. The airport has been collecting more revenue from local tourists visiting Rajapaksa-era white elephants in the Hambantota district.
Flydubai and Air Arabia – both budget carriers — began operating to Mattala after the previous administration offered them concessions at the Bandaranaike International in Colombo if they touched down at Mattala on their way in or out of the island.
However, after six weeks, Air Arabia pulled out saying it was uneconomical. Sri Lankan airlines also stopped flying to Mattala in 2015 and saying the carrier was losing an addition 18 million dollars a year because it was forced to operate via Mattala.
The 210-million dollar airport’s location has also been problematic for airline. The first Sri Lankan Airbus had its windshield shattered on the first test flight after hitting a bird. Two Flydubai planes were crippled on take-off after sucking in peacocks into their engines.
Several other airlines too suffered bird hits. In March 2016, some 300 troops were deployed to clear the airport of deer, wild buffaloes and elephants straying onto the runway.
The only time the airport made a some revenue was when its warehouses were used to store rice. Revenue from the 550-staff airport was not enough to meet even the electricity bill of the complex.
Mattala, however, remains an emergency alternate landing location for flights heading into Colombo International. Earlier this year the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov 225, refuelled there.
Government plans to lease the Mattala airport to an international operator remained in limbo with no appreciable investor interest.
Last August, China took over the loss-making deep-sea port of Hambantota on a 99-year lease under a $1.1 billion deal, sparking particular concern in neighbouring India.