Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport

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Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport
Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport logo.png
Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Terminal Building.JPG
Airport type Public
Owner GoSL
Operator AASL
Serves Hambantota
Location Mattala, Hambantota, Sri Lanka
Time zone SLST (UTC+05:30)
Elevation AMSL 48 m / 157 ft
Coordinates 06°17′20″N 81°07′25″E / 6.28889°N 81.12361°E / 6.28889; 81.12361Coordinates: 06°17′20″N 81°07′25″E / 6.28889°N 81.12361°E / 6.28889; 81.12361
HRI is located in Sri Lanka
Location of airport in Sri Lanka
Direction Length Surface
m ft
05/23 3,500 11,483 Asphalt
Statistics (2017)
Passengers 52,448
Cargo (t) 69
Aircraft movements 2,984

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.[2]

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.[3] 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.[4][5]

During its hub operations at Mattala, SriLankan Airlines flew Airbus A330 (shown here) and Airbus A340 widebody aircraft to the airport.


A second international airport[6] for Sri Lanka was considered for various reasons. Congestion was increasing at Bandaranaike International Airport, and an alternate airport was desired.[7][8] 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.[9] Hambantota was also the home town of the president at time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.[10]

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.[11]


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.[6]

US$209 million were spent on the project, with $190 million provided by the Chinese government via the Exim Bank of China.[12] Construction of phase one began on 27 November 2009.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15]

In March 2013, the Civil Aviation Authority awarded MRIA international airport certification, allowing it to receive international flights.[16]

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.[17] 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.[18]

Later developments[edit]

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.[19]

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.[20] 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.[21]

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.[22][23] Some passengers were unhappy with what was described as a three-hour wait in the middle of a jungle.[24]

Flight services[edit]

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.[25][26] 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.[27] Mihin Lanka flew from Mattala to Gaya and Medan but too ended flights.[28]

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.[29] In 2018 Flydubai also ceased its operations in the airport citing it to be "uneconomical"[30]

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. [31]


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.[32] In addition, the terminal has a restaurant, medical centre, and a lounge for business class passengers.


MRIA has a single runway, 05/23. It measures 3,500 m (11,483 ft), making it capable of receiving the world's largest passenger aircraft, the Airbus A380.[32]

Other facilities[edit]

Walkway to airport exit

The air traffic control tower stands at a height of 35 m (115 ft). The airport cargo facility occupies 1,000 m2 (11,000 sq ft) and can handle up to 50,000 tonnes of freight per year.[32]

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.[33] Previously, fuel had to be transported by bowser from tanks at Hambantota Port, sometimes resulting in flight delays.[34]

Airlines and destinations[edit]

Passenger flights[edit]

^1 As of 2017 no international airline uses the airport for regular passenger flights

Cargo flights[edit]



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.[35][36] However, the plan was considered a pet project of Rajapaksa, as Hambantota District is his home district but is also poor and largely rural.[8][35]

Waiting area

As a result, there has been low demand for flights from Mattala, and the airport has accrued significant losses.[37] While MRIA is located close to many tourist attractions such as Yala National Park, it lacks adequate transport links.[11]

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.[38]

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.[39][40][41] 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.[42]

Future plans[edit]

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.[33][43] Expansion plans halted due to commercial failure of airport Jun 2018

Accidents and incidents[edit]

  • 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.[44]
  • 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.[42]
  • 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.[45]

See also[edit]


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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  2. ^ "No more flights from Sri Lanka's second airport". Gulf News. Dubai, U.A.E. Agence France-Presse. 8 June 2018. Retrieved 12 June 2018. 
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  4. ^ "For Sale: The World's Emptiest International Airport". 
  5. ^ "The Story Behind The World's Emptiest International Airport". 
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  8. ^ a b Hardy, Michael (29 November 2009). "Hambantota Airport Fueled By Politics". The Sunday Leader. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
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  18. ^ "MATTALA RAJAPAKSA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT TAKES WING". The Times of Sri Lanka. 18 March 2013. Retrieved 20 February 2016.
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  35. ^ a b Bearak, Max (31 March 2015). "Sri Lankan ex-president's vanity airport project grounded by cash crunch". Al Jazeera America. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  36. ^ Bengali, Shashank (30 March 2015). "Sri Lanka confronts ex-leader's extravagant projects in 'middle of nowhere'". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  37. ^ "Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport to be closed during the night to minimize losses" Archived 1 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. The Ceylon Independent. 6 March 2015. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  38. ^ "Why Mattala could not take off: Here's the plane truth - The Sunday Times Sri Lanka". 
  39. ^ Kuruwita, Rathindra (18 February 2016). "Development – at what cost?" Archived 1 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine.. Environment Conservation Trust. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  40. ^ Rodrigo, Malaka (18 March 2013). "Airport in Elephant Territory opens today". Window to Nature. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
  41. ^ Berenger, Leon (19 January 2014). "Religious beliefs save Mattala peacocks, but threat persists". Sunday Times. Retrieved 18 February 2016.
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External links[edit]

Media related to Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport at Wikimedia Commons