The World’s Loneliest Airport Has India, Sri Lanka In a Tough Spot
Sri Lanka and India seem to be on the opposite sides of the table on a crucial issue of bilateral ties.
Earlier this month, Sri Lankan civil aviation minister Nimal Siripala de Silva had told the Parliament that the government had asked the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to submit its business plan to operate the loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport.
However, India’s minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha on Sunday told Parliament that there was no proposal under consideration for the AAI to buy a controlling stake in the airport. Sinha also clarified that there were no plans for the AAI to build a flying school and a maintenance, repair and overhaul unit at the airport.
The airport, dubbed the world’s loneliest, was built with high-interest commercial loans from China. The AAI is reported to have a 70 per cent stake, while Sri Lanka’s CAA will invest 30 per cent. The airport was officially inaugurated in March 2013 but the lone flight operating from there was also stopped in May this year due to losses.
While it may have built the airport with Chinese money, the Sri Lankan government, under Maithripala Sirisena, has repeatedly said that the Chinese offer for operations was not great.
The tug-of-war between India and China over Sri Lanka is a thing of the past but the fight for pole position has become visible. Sri Lanka is stuck in between, as was evident from cabinet spokesperson Rajitha Senaratne’s statement that Colombo was trying to balance the two countries.
Mattala is barely 40 kilometres away from the Hambantota port, which China has leased for 99 years in lieu of the aid that it gave to Sri Lanka.
China’s interests in Mattala airport are obvious. It built the facility and ideally prefers having rights of operations to it too. There are also rumours doing the rounds that China wants to use the Hambantota port for military purposes.
Enter India, which has had extremely strong naval ties with Sri Lanka. Additionally, it is no secret that India needs something to hold onto in the area. The airport could easily be the country’s eyes on China in Hambantota.
Despite its strategic advantage, it is surprising to see the Indian government go on record to say it has no proposal to consider the airport.
China is keen on having Sri Lanka to itself, at least most parts of it. This year, as the Chinese embassy in Colombo noted recently, the country “will continue to provide various training courses to tri-officers, to complete building the Chinese-funded auditorium complex at the Sri Lankan Military Academy, to make preparations to hand over a gift frigate to Sri Lanka Navy.”
Chinese President Xi Jinping has also given a personal gift, approximately $200 million, to Sirisena and the Sri Lankan president has vowed to make houses in the south of the country with it.
The geo-politics aside, the airport is a cause of concern for Sri Lankan domestic politics. The country has often been seen as one which has leased out, if not sold off, its assets to foreign countries. The 1987 Accord between India and Sri Lanka is still seen as one where the latter bowed in front of India, one of its strongest and oldest allies in the region.
The sentiment has deepened with Sri Lanka throwing its weight behind China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Most of the loans from China came during the previous government under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who is still considered close to the Chinese establishment.
Recently, Rajapaksa said his country’s decision to involve India in the Mattala airport project would “unnecessarily” embroil Sri Lanka in the power tussle between India and China.
(News18 / Yahoo News)
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Different story coming out to cover up the real story from the public.
So called savior, Rohan Pelawatte can consider this proposal and show patriotism before requesting the votes.
We dont bother about making chips for airbags, do something first to the country and show that you are available.
Anyway this airport is famous for paddy, and it can be a revenue generator along with the harbor. A better plan can be drown by our own people how to develop this. Not by the idiotic politicians.
People in this country must come out and request this unstable, inability government to go home without further selling the things.
This airport is dead meat, my dear friends.
Only option is for the R Family Billionaires to set up their own International Airline and confine operations to MRIA.
That airline should be given the only licence to transport housemaids to Arab Lands from anywhere in Sri Lanka. It should have a well stocked Duty Free Shop to enable the maids to buy dishwashers, fridges and VAT69 for their alcoholic husbands.
We, the ordinary traveller and tourists can then use Katunayake with peace and quiet and dignity.
Unfortunately most of our Sri Lankan’s are not very patriotic. They for get things very fast. Ungrateful time serving hypocrites.
The Mattala airport never had a chance because MR went out of power. Just like the Hambanthota Harbour that was supposed to be useless because of a rock that was blocking the entrance. But then the rock disappeared and the Chinese got very interested in the useless harbour and took on a 99 year lease because our present government is very smart and the Chinese are very stupid. And our people don’t still seem to get it. They still believe the bulshit that MY3 and RW keep feeding them like a bunch of kids.
It will be nice to see the current leaders do something constructive instead of keeping on slandering the Rajapakse’s. That is the only thing they have done in abundance from the time they came it to power.
This nut douglas is no smarter than the politicians the likes of of siripala who has little else to save the country gpong bankrupt. further this s face baboon ought to realise that if not for those working in me arab world and to write disparagingly is gross and to further insult their husbands is downright rotten.
further what is it this bum from ameripura pickling on cheap vodka and water to know of the chinese and the lankan economy
@Douglas, You may be visualizing a part of it.
When we see the Hambantota Port from the world map, you are very much clear that the location its placed is very strategic.
The most important part is to find away to attract ships to it.
East and West get the link via this area.
Why SL is not having planners? Only politicians?
If we can provide resting facilities, storing facilities, re-import bays, fueling stations, releasing loads and moving facilities to another ship etc,. this harbor will have a good potential to gain the best in the world.
We need to have thinking machines, unfortunately without doing the basics it has been sold ie lease for long term.
When this harbor provides all of these facilities, eventually there will be a need of an Airport, to provide access for decision makers/ authorities to fly to harbor matters. Initially it will be lesser but it has room to grow.
Also as planned when industrial zone is developed, there will be a huge capacity which will blossom the needs of Mattala. For Cargo planes, and passenger planes.
Why people are not thinking out of the box?
We should revert back the decision in near future.