Sri Lanka’s second international airport–the $200 million China Exim Bank-funded Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA)–opened last month and has already attracted national carrier SriLankan Airlines and its subsidiary, SriLankan Cargo; Sharjah-based budget carrier Air Arabia; and flyDubai. Emirates Airlines, Korean Airways and Sichuan Airlines all plan to start services soon, while British Airways and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways have also “committed” to establish a presence at MRIA, located in the district of Hambantota, some 100 miles southeast of the capital, Colombo.
Looking to attract airline partners from neighboring countries, SriLankan Airlines has entered talks with Lufthansa Technik (LHT) to jointly establish a maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility at MRIA. “We are [considering a joint venture] with LHT because they can market the MRO globally and bring business competency [to us],” SriLankan chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe told AIN. Plans call for completion of the first phase, consisting of two hangars and a paint shop, by year-end. Unlike its neighbor India, the Sri Lankan government will not charge duty for imported spares, said Wickremasinghe.
The MRIA project covers some 5,000 acres, and once its developers complete the second phase, the airport will carry the capacity to accommodate five million passengers and 150,000 tons of cargo per year. Authorities have not announced a date for the start of the second phase.
Construction on MRIA–named after Sri Lanka’s president–started in late 2009. The International Civil Aviation Organization has designated the airport’s 11,500-foot-long, 200-foot-wide runway “Code F,” allowing it to accept the Airbus A380. A gateway to the island’s southeast and close-by wildlife sanctuaries of Yala, Udawalawe and Bundala, MRIA represents part of the island’s bid to reposition itself as a tourist and cargo handling destination following the end of a long civil war.