Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport
|Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport|
|Location||Mattala, Hambantota, Sri Lanka|
|Time zone||SLST (UTC+05:30)|
|Elevation AMSL||48 m / 157 ft|
Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) (Sinhalese: මත්තල රාජපක්ෂ ජාත්යන්තර ගුවන්තොටුපළ, translit. Mattala Rājapakṣa Jātyantara Guvantoṭupaḷa; Tamil: மத்தல ராஜபக்ச பன்னாட்டு வானூர்தி நிலையம், translit. Mattala Rājapakca Paṉṉāṭṭu Vāṉūrti Nilaiyam) (IATA: HRI, ICAO: VCRI) is an international airport serving southeast Sri Lanka. It is located in the town of Mattala, 18 km (11 mi) from Hambantota. It is the first greenfield airport and the second international airport in the country, after Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.
MRIA was opened in March 2013 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ordered the construction of the airport. Initially, several airlines flew to the airport, including SriLankan Airlines which established a hub. However, due to low demand, most of these airlines left Mattala. As of June 2018 there are no scheduled flights from the airport.
Due to the low number of flights, it has been proposed to offer long-term aircraft parking services as well as creating flying schools and maintenance services to be offered from the airport. In 2016 the Sri Lankan government called for Expressions of Interest to run commercial activities of the Airport as the airport is not generating enough revenue to pay back the loans. It has been called "the world's emptiest international airport" due to its low number of flights despite the large size of the airport.
A second international airport for Sri Lanka was considered for various reasons. Congestion was increasing at Bandaranaike International Airport, and an alternate airport was desired. In addition, the Rajapaksa government wanted to revitalise the tourism industry following the civil war. An airport in Hambantota District would be located close to several tourist attractions, including Arugam Bay, Nuwara Eliya and Yala National Park. Hambantota was also the home town of the president at time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.
It was initially planned to expand Weerawila Airport into an international airport, but the plans were scrapped due to environmental concerns. The site was then moved to Mattala, a small town 15 kilometres (9.3 mi) north of Hambantota.
Strategic Enterprises Management Agency (SEMA) of the government was against creating an international airport in Mattala, and instead recommended the expansion of BIA facilities and improving the Airfield in Puttalam as an emergency landing strip due to lower transport costs, it being already situated near an air corridor, and less environmental damage. However this was overridden by the government.
US$209 million were spent on the project, with $190 million provided by the Chinese government via the Exim Bank of China. Construction of phase one began on 27 November 2009. By the end of February 2012, the construction of the runway, apron and taxiways was completed ahead of schedule.
On 16 October 2012, a Hawker Beechcraft B200 King Air of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority became the first aircraft to land at the new airport. It was an instrument testing aircraft fitted with ATC testing equipment. The test flights continued for 8 days for testing the ILS and other flight controls fixed in the new airport.
On 24 January 2013, Sri Lanka Minister of Civil Aviation Piyankara Jayaratne said in parliament that the airport would be declared open on 18 March 2013. A SriLankan Airlines Airbus A330-200 landed at the airport on 29 January 2013. This was the second plane to land, shortly followed by an Airbus A320, which carried 125 orphan children from Bandaranaike International Airport in Colombo.
The airport was opened for flight operations on 18 March 2013. President Rajapaksa, his ministers, and other dignitaries arrived in a SriLankan Airlines Airbus A340 to attend the inauguration ceremony. The first commercial flight to land at Mattala was SriLankan Airlines Flight 226 from Dubai, followed by an Air Arabia flight from Sharjah and a Flydubai flight from Dubai.
As the access road is rarely used, pieces of the safety net on the access road have been removed to create gateways for cattle to enter the road. The malfunctioning light system makes the road preferable for wild elephants to roam at night and the road is also used to dry pepper harvests.
The unused air cargo terminals were leased by the Paddy Marketing Board (PMB) to store the rice bumper harvest from the region which allowed the Airport to make revenues larger than flight-related activities. In 2016, over 300 soldiers, police officers and volunteers were deployed to chase away wild animals from the airport. Fire crackers were used to scare away the animals, however the operation was unsuccessful and a bigger operation was planned.
However, due to the runway renovations of Bandaranaike International Airport Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) briefly become busier with at least five flights using the airport daily. Some passengers were unhappy with what was described as a three-hour wait in the middle of a jungle.
Several airlines served Mattala in the beginning, but the majority soon ended service. Air Arabia ended its flights from Sharjah only six weeks after beginning service, citing low demand. SriLankan Airlines operated a hub at the airport until 2015. In triangle routings through Colombo, the airline flew to Bangkok, Beijing, Chennai, Jeddah, Malé, Riyadh, Shanghai, and Tiruchirappalli from Mattala. The hub was closed on 17 January 2015, as the airline was accruing great losses on the routes. Mihin Lanka flew from Mattala to Gaya and Medan but too ended flights.
All international airlines have left Mattala as of 2018. Flydubai operated a daily triangle routing through Colombo to Dubai. Cinnamon Air began direct flights to Colombo in May 2016 but ceased operations in 2018 due to the operations being uneconomical and several bird strikes. In 2018 Flydubai also ceased its operations in the airport citing it to be "uneconomical"
Antonov Airlines use MRIA as a transit base to re-fuel and provide rest for its crew members. Average 4 flights per month landing in MRIA. In April, 2018 World Largest Aircraft Antonov An-225 Mriya also landed in MRIA. This is the first time Antonov An-225 Mriya landed in Sri Lanka. 
The passenger terminal covers 10,000 m2 (110,000 sq ft) and can handle 1 million passengers per year. It has 12 check-in counters and 2 gates equipped with jetways. In addition, the terminal has a restaurant, medical centre, and a lounge for business class passengers.
In 2014, a fuel hydrant system and an aircraft refueling terminal were completed. The fuel hydrant system was built by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) at a cost of USD$7 million, while the refueling terminal was constructed by Amana Pipeline Construction LLC, a Dubai-based construction company at a cost of USD$31 million. Previously, fuel had to be transported by bowser from tanks at Hambantota Port, sometimes resulting in flight delays.
Airlines and destinations
^1 As of 2017 no international airline uses the airport for regular passenger flights
MRIA has been called a white elephant of Mahinda Rajapaksa's presidency. It was part of Rajapaksa's plan to transform Hambantota District into a commercial hub; other projects included a cricket stadium and an international port. However, the plan was considered a pet project of Rajapaksa, as Hambantota District is his home district but is also poor and largely rural.
As a result, there has been low demand for flights from Mattala, and the airport has accrued significant losses. While MRIA is located close to many tourist attractions such as Yala National Park, it lacks adequate transport links.
In 2004 a report produced by the International Air Transport Association claimed that money would be better invested in a second runway at the BIA than a new airport. Aviation experts have claimed that the runway orientation of the airport makes the aircraft face dangerous crosswinds. Sri Lankan pilots were also not consulted when the airport was planned.
In addition, environmentalists have criticised MRIA's being built in an elephant and migratory bird habitat. During the planning stages of the project, environmentalists had warned of the threat to wildlife, but construction went ahead. 2,000 acres of forest were cleared to build the airport, displacing about 200 elephants. Migratory birds, which frequent the area, have been involved in collisions with aircraft approaching or departing from MRIA.
A second stage of expansion was planned but has not commenced as of early 2016. Under this stage, the terminal would be greatly expanded, with the number of jetways raised to 15. In addition, a new hangar and cargo apron would be constructed. Stage 2 would raise MRIA's capacity to 5–6 million passengers per year. Expansion plans halted due to commercial failure of airport Jun 2018
Accidents and incidents
- On 14 March 2013, a SriLankan Airlines aircraft operating a test flight between Colombo and Mattala collided with a flock of birds on approach. The aircraft was able to land safely.
- On 25 March 2013, SriLankan Airlines Flight 114, an Airbus A340-300 flying from Malé to Colombo via Mattala, collided with birds upon takeoff from MRIA. A crack formed in the cockpit windscreen, but the aircraft was able to continue to Colombo.
- On 11 January 2014, flydubai Flight 551, a Boeing 737-800 travelling from Colombo to Dubai via Mattala, hit a flock of peacocks during takeoff from MRIA. The aircraft was forced to return to MRIA, and engineers and technicians were flown in from Colombo to inspect it.
Sri Lanka's civil aviation minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva, informed the parliament about the decision wherein Airports Authority of India will form a joint venture with the Sri Lankan airport authority to operate the $210 million facility dubbed as the "world's emptiest airport."
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Media related to Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport at Wikimedia Commons