Sri Lanka upbeat about post-war aviation industry

By Easwaran Rutnam

COLOMBO, Aug. 24 (Xinhua) — Sri Lanka is upbeat about its post war aviation industry with some major international airlines returning to the country, according to a top Sri Lankan aviation official.

In an interview with Xinhua Friday, Director General H.M.C Nimalsiri of Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Authority said that a new international airport being constructed with the Chinese government assistance in the south of the country will help meet demands for more landing space required for international flights.

Several major international airlines, including British Airways, Air France and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, pulled out from the country when the government was engaged in a bitter 30-year-war with Tamil Tiger rebels.

However with the war ending three years ago and the tourism industry booming, British Airways had announced recently that it will resume flights to the country starting next year.

“In the past we saw a cycle where the industry grew and then collapsed but now we see it growing steadily because that uncertainty period which we saw during the war is not there anymore,” Nimalsiri said.

According to Nimalsiri, British Airways will be resuming flights to Sri Lanka after 15 years, adding that this would give the green light to other international airlines that have pulled out from the country to return.

Sri Lanka’s only international airport, the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), took a direct hit from the war when it was attacked by the Tamil Tiger rebels in July 2001.

Some Sri Lankan Airlines flights parked at the airport were damaged or totally destroyed in the attack which also resulted in the industry suffering huge losses.

However with normalcy restored and tourists returning to the country, the BIA has expanded to meet more passenger demands and a new airport, which will be Sri Lanka’s second international airport, is being constructed in Mattala, in the south of the country.

Nimalsiri said that the Mattala airport, unlike the BIA, will be capable of handling even the Airbus A380, the biggest airline in the skies today.

An A380 had landed at the BIA in January this year to refuel but it was forced to follow some strict safety guidelines as the runway was not big enough to handle the jumbo jet.

Nimalsiri meanwhile described as rubbish allegations that the new Mattala airport will not serve its purpose being far away from the capital Colombo.

“The Mattala airport is close to the new shipping port in Hambantota as well as to several tourist destinations. And it will also connect to the city through a new highway. It will eventually be our main airport,” he said.

He said that the Mattala International Airport is scheduled to open next year.

Sri Lanka was recently also highly rated internationally for its air safety and security and this has motivated the country to improve all its domestic airports as well.

Nimalsiri said that the Ratmalana airport, the only domestic airport virtually in the city of Colombo and which intended only for military flights and domestic airlines, was declared open for smaller international commercial jets this month.

Nimalsiri said that eventually several other domestic airports, including the one in the northern town of Jaffna, will also be improved while new ones will be built in the eastern town of Batticaloa as well as in the central hills.

He said that with more tourists expected in the country there is a need for Sri Lanka to improve connectivity both internationally and locally.

Data released by the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority showed that Sri Lanka’s tourist arrivals rose 7.8 percent in July this year compared to the same period last year.

The month recorded 90,338 tourist arrivals compared to 83,786 in July 2011.

Tourist arrivals from Western Europe reached 214,186 during the first seven months of this year, a 20.6 percent increase from the 177,543 tourist arrivals in the same period of last year.