Business Times

Wildlife to conserve the space at Mattala airport

By Sunimalee Dias

Sri Lanka’s second international airport at Hambantota will be less in capacity to its counterpart at Katunayake but would be unique in its wildlife and natural surroundings. Abandoned chena cultivation inhabited by wild elephants will be a noteworthy feature in the backdrop of village tanks in the vicinity. This surrounding is unique to the Mattala International Airport that will allow visitors to have a closeness with nature, an airport official said.

The Mattala airport development work on 800 hectares of the 2000 hectare land area carried out at a cost of Rs.24 billion (US$209 million) will be completing its first phase by September/October 2012 and is currently on target. The balance 1200 hectares is to be developed based on a demand driven basis within a 30-year period.

The concept adopted at this new airport site will be the integration of the airport structure into the existing wildlife, Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. (AASL) Executive Director Johanne Jayaratne said during an interview with the Business Times.

He noted that the buffer zone surrounding the airport structure would be used to accommodate the wildlife that would be five miles deep from the circumference. The airport would also be engaged in the provision of power generation and the recycling of water for use at the premises.

With the removal of trees there is a need now to replace them in equal numbers or more to conserve the environment, the official pointed out. It was noted that this is expected to enrich the adjacent forest lands surrounding the airport. As part of the eco friendly nature of the airport, buildings will be engaging in energy efficiency for power generation.

BIA capacity exceeds Mattala
Although the capacity at BIA is less than what could be achieved at Mattala it is noted that the space for engaging large aircraft will be similar.

The Mattala airport will be ready to attract one million passengers per annum compared to the 6 million at the BIA while it is estimated that initially passenger arrivals would amount to about half a million.
However, this new airport is geared to cater to handling cargo and as for passengers it would be mostly charter operations.

Currently the AASL is engaged in discussion with trade and charters in a bid to attracting flights to the airport. Mr Jayaratne said with the growth of the tourism industry they anticipate about two charter flights and projections are for 3 frequencies carrying about 150-200 passengers per flight.

He noted that flights would be mainly from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries, Germany, Switzerland and France. In this respect, they also expect passenger movement to also include budget airlines as well while local carrier SriLankan Airlines and Mihin are expected to engage in freight movements and pilgrimage travels respectively.

Cargo handling at the Mattala airport will bring in a capacity of 50, 000 MT annually on about two flights per week. The terminal building saw the foundation laying ceremony conducted last Tuesday with the participation of the Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa, a former Aviation Minister.

It was noted that the construction of a hotel with about 150 rooms would also be carried out that will be along the lines of a star hotel located as a transit hotel. An official noted that 40% of the runway at the new airport is now completed, that is built to a length of 3500 metres and a 75 metre width.

Meanwhile, the BIA is to construct its A380 runway at Katunayake that is planned to be completed within months of the one at Mattala. Mr Jayaratne observed that when construction on this work commences around March/April next year they plan to close part of the runway at given times when there is little or no traffic. The BIA plans on not closing any runway for construction purposes that would affect traffic into the country.

Currently AASL is engaged in marketing the Mattala airport for which a soft process had been carried out in past six months, he said adding that in about two months they would be carrying out more programmes towards this end.

It was pointed out that the government together with Sri Lanka Tourism and the industry will conduct a forum to understand the requirements of key stakeholders on a future date in relation to the construction of the new airport.

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