Two Middle Eastern low cost-carriers, Dubai based flydubai and UAE based Air Arabia have agreed to commence operations at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) once the Airport is declared open from March 18 confirmed Minister of Civil Aviation, Priyankara Jayaratne last week.
Although the dates of commencement had not been announced as yet, the minister said that negotiations are currently underway with several other international airlines, to get them to operate from the new aircraft terminal.
“Rerouting is optional. We are looking at getting more flights to operate from MRIA, to fly to international destinations from Mattala,” he noted adding that so far responses from the carriers have been positive.
The Minister had earlier announced that an open skies policy will be adopted by the government allowing international carriers to operate freely at the new airport. Meanwhile, the Media Secretary to Civil Aviation Ministry, Jinadasa Rajapaksa, said that concessions proposed by the government are expected to play a key role in attracting airlines to MRIA. “The tax concessions granted by the Authority is a major advantage for the carriers - in the first year, the airlines will enjoy a 60 percent tax relief on ground handling, while in the second year they will enjoy 50 percent off. This discount will be available for the first five years on a diminishing basis,” he said.
Further, the secretary also noted “subsequent to termination of the war, the aviation sector of the country was seen flourishing under the government’s sponsorship. Last year, a survey conducted by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) had even recognized Sri Lanka as the number one country in the South Asian region, in the context of aviation security and safety”.
When inquired if passengers will be inconvenienced by having to stopover at MRIA within minutes of taking off from Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), Rajapaksa said, “Let us look at it optimistically. Passengers are generally aware that they have to be transit at certain airports. So be it here or in some other place – as long as they are comfortable, it will not be a hassle”.
Sri Lankan Airlines and Mihin Air, Chief executive officer, Kapila Chandrasena, in the meantime said that “we are looking at stopping and basing certain flights in MRIA, however, the schedules have not yet been finalized”.
“Given that 80 percent of pilgrims to India are from the southern and Eastern areas, it would be largely convenient for them to board a flight from Mattla. So it is likely that Mihin Air flights to Varanasi and Gaya will be based there,” Chandrasena expressed. Adding to it he also said that, according to analyses, Chinese tourists particularly prefer visiting sites along the southern coast and therefore they can opt to disembark at MRIA, once the reformed schedules have been announced.
Chandrasena remarked that as Mihin Lanka is looking at further expanding capacity, the new airport is a timely investment.