Sri Lanka in talks with more airlines to fly to Jaffna

Sri Lanka is in talks with multiple airlines to fly to Jaffna after the Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was launched as an international airport.

Chairman of Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited Dammika Ranatunga said  with the completion of Stage 01 of the renovation of JIA, they can now accommodate aircrafts with upto an 80-seat capacity, and discussions have been initiated with airlines operating within that capacity.

The inauguration of operations was initiated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, as it began its scheduled flight operations on 11th of November with a flight arriving from Chennai.

Initially, Alliance Air will operate flights three times a week on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. This will later increase to daily flights in between Chennai and Jaffna.

“We also hope to boost connectivity to other destinations in the Indian subcontinent and the Maldives,” he said.

Ranatunga also said that local operator FitsAir will become the first privately owned local airline licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka to operate internationally. FitsAir will operate scheduled and charter flights from JIA to Chennai and Tiruchirappalli International Airports in South India.

He said that the Airport and Aviation Services of Sri Lanka (AASL) is currently negotiating with other targeted airlines to commence operations.

“We also hope to encourage them by offering incentives at the initial stages. Several airlines, including Spice Jet, have already expressed their interest,” he said.

He also said that with the completion of Stage 02 of the expansion, JIA will be able to accommodate larger aircrafts, including those of SriLankan Airlines.

Full interview:

Mr. Ranatunga you head a very important government institution in Sri Lanka. What would you say are the significant achievements of the Airport and Aviation Services in the recent past?

Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Limited (AASL) is the statutory service provider for the development, operation and maintenance of civil airports of Sri Lanka. The AASL was appointed as the agent of the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) to discharge duties in this capacity as a member of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The company is among the top most profit-making blue-chip companies in Sri Lanka. It is actively involved in the national infrastructure development drive of the GOSL in the field of aviation.

We are currently developing the Ratmalana, Batticaloa, and Jaffna airports as international airports, thereby increasing our contribution to national GDP.

From a technical aspect, we have done significant enhancements in terms of air navigation services infrastructure by upgrading our Air Traffic Management systems, Communication, Surveillance and Navigation systems with the state-of-the-art technologies.

The Bandaranaike International Airport Development Project Phase II Stage 2 Package B ‘Remote Apron and Taxiways’ is another project that is in the works.

 

Have we been slow in ensuring the domestic airports are in place and well equipped to accommodate air travel around the country?

Yes, there have been some delays in getting things off the ground.

However, now that we have the necessary infrastructure and facilities in place, we believe it will be an invaluable addition to our aviation services, and can contribute greatly to the Sri Lankan economy by boosting tourism opportunities and increasing investment prospects in the hospitality sector.

 

The Jaffna international airport is no doubt a very important milestone for Sri Lanka and the North? Talk us through the idea behind converting the Palaly airport into an international airport.

Construction of new airports at strategic locations and developing existing airports is important in order to reap economic and social benefits in a sustainable manner. Therefore, the objective of converting the airport into an international one was based on the need to develop air connectivity in the region.

The Jaffna International Airport (JIA), located approximately 16 km north of Jaffna, was previously used as a Sri Lanka Air Force base and a domestic airport.

Upgrading of this facility to an international airport is being handled in a carefully planned, phased approach.

Currently, Stage 01 has been completed with an investment of nearly Rs. 1 billion by the Sri Lankan government, and includes complete refurbishment of the runway, international standard terminal and infrastructure upgrades, and the construction of a separate Air Traffic Control tower.

Stage 02, which is scheduled to commence next year, will focus especially on extending the runway to accommodate larger aircrafts, as well as further expansion of the terminals. Subsequently, Stage 03 will ensure that the JIA is operational as a full-fledged international airport which can accommodated any international flight and passengers.

With Stage 01 completed and JIA now being operational, it provides convenient accessibility to growing customer segments and economic centers in India and the Maldives. The completion of Stage 02 and 03 will then provide us increased access to South East Asian markets, and then all around the world.

 

What are the other airlines Sri Lanka is in talks with to establish links with the Jaffna airport?

With the completion of Stage 01 of the renovation of JIA, we can now accommodate aircrafts with upto an 80-seat capacity, and our discussions have been with airlines operating within that capacity.

The inauguration of operations was initiated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India, as it began its scheduled flight operations on 11th of November with a flight arriving from Chennai.

Initially, Alliance Air will operate flights 3 times a week on Monday, Wednesdays and Saturdays. This will later increase to daily flights in between Chennai and Jaffna. We also hope to boost connectivity to other destinations in the Indian subcontinent and the Maldives.

This occasion also marks a milestone in Sri Lankan aviation history, with local operator FitsAir becoming the first privately owned local airline licensed by the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka to operate internationally. FitsAir will operate scheduled and charter flights from JIA to Chennai and Tiruchirappalli International Airports in South India.

AASL is currently negotiating with other targeted airlines to commence operations. We also hope to encourage them by offering incentives at the initial stages. Several airlines, including Spice Jet, have already expressed their interest.

With the completion of Stage 02 of the expansion, we will be able to accommodate larger aircrafts, including those of Sri Lankan Airlines.

 

There are fears the Jaffna airport might become another Mattala airport? How would you respond to those fears? 

Before embarking on this project, comprehensive feasibility studies were conducted on the potential of the area, the expected increases on passenger traffic and growth in tourism opportunities.

For example, the total passenger movement from the Bandaranaike International Airport to five major airports (Trivandrum, Chennai, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Delhi International Airports) in the Indian sector have been growing rapidly during the period of 2013-2018. The growth in 2018 compared to 2017 is 28%. Meanwhile, the average annual growth rate of Sri Lankans travelling to Indian destinations during 2013-2018 has been at 12%.

As a result, JIA will immediately play an important role in easing the general congestion in travel and operations at the main international airport by giving travellers an alternate option.

Moreover, many Sri Lankans travel year-round to India on Pilgrim Tourism. And travellers from India to Sri Lanka are increasing as India continues to be the highest tourist generating country for Sri Lanka.

With international flights between Jaffna and South India commencing operations, costs will be reduced by almost 50 per cent for thousands of local and international travellers and save them valuable travel time because they can now travel via Jaffna as opposed to the BIA.

The Jaffna International Airport has already commenced the operation of commercial flights with Alliance Air and FitsAir. The schedules of these airlines have been confirmed already and is fully operational.

Additionally, negotiations with other targeted airlines are going positively, and we expect many more operators to come on board in the near future.

As mentioned before, this airport will be developed under three different phases, the first of which is complete, to maximise the return on our investment.

Phase 1 – Complete

A fully refurbished 1,400 m runway

Terminal building with 1,000sqm floor area and infrastructure upgraded to international standards

Airport opened to handle 80-seater aircrafts travelling nonstop to destinations within 900 km, covering southern parts of India, and the Maldives.

Phase 2 – 2020 to 2022

Runway to be extended up to 2,400 m

Navigation Aids installation

Weather Observation system installation

Terminal building capacity expansion

Day and Night operations with new Airfield Lighting

Airport upgraded to handle 150-seater Airbus A320s.

Phase 3 – 2022 onwards

Runway to be extended up to 3,200 m

Additional Navigation Aids installation

Wide Area Multi-lateration system

Airfield Lighting expansion

Airport upgraded to handle 200-seater Airbus A321s.

 

Jaffna is Sri Lanka’s third international airport. Yet there is a concern that the first airport, the Bandaranaike International Airport lacks the look, feel and facilities to match that of an international airport. What steps are you taking to convert BIA into a world class airport?

The Bandaranaike International Airport was built to accommodate up to 6 million passengers, but today it sees traffic of over 10 million passengers. As such, by January 2020, there will upgrades and expansions of up to 3,000sqm to the current terminal to facilitate better passenger movement.

There onwards, the proposed new terminal of BIA is designed to reflect a world-class image and standard of excellence for international airport architecture. The design of the terminal building reflects Sri Lanka’s rich culture and heritage which will create a memorable experience for visitors.

The following improvements and upgrades are set to take place under the Bandaranaike International Airport Projects Phase II Stage 2 Package B ‘Remote Apron and Taxiways’:

The new proposed terminal of 180,000 m2 will enhance the passenger handling capacity up to 15 million;

A remote apron which as 23 aircraft parking stands will be constructed, bringing the total number of stands to 48;

Construction of taxiways;

Construction of GSE (Ground Support Equipment) Roads;

Installation of aerodrome ground lights incorporating energy saving technologies;

Enhancement of power supply system;

Installation of utility systems, including water supply system and sewage disposal system;

Storm water drainage system and retention pond

Construction of a bulk store import building.

In-line Baggage Screening system and Cabin Baggage screening system with Explosive Detection capabilities

Furthermore, the following facilities will be added at BIA

96 Check-in counters

32 Departure passport control counters

16 Contact gates

10 Bus gates increase

06 airline lounges

56 arrival passport control counters

07 baggage claim Carousels

07 Baggage make-up Carousels

 

And what plans for Mattala, which was once seen as a ‘white elephant’ project?

When you initially consider the population and movement in the Hambantota area, it doesn’t hold the same potential for growth as Jaffna. However, with the growth of tourism into the country, we can expect additional flight requirements, which is where the Mattala airport will come in.

Additionally, we can expect growth as a result of the Hambantota Port, and this can be further increased if plans to establish industrial zones are actioned.

What we have to remember is that while setting up the necessary infrastructure is important, it is equally vital to promote our tourism sector so that the established infrastructure can be used to their maximum.

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