COLOMBO, March 17 (Xinhua) -- Post-war Sri Lanka is gearing for the opening of its second international airport on Monday with Chinese funding that is targeted at boosting tourism and investment in the island.
Called the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), the new 210 million U.S. dollar venture in southern Sri Lanka is ready for its official opening on March 18.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO)-approved MRIA under stage one will have a capacity of handling 1 million passengers per annum with two aero bridges and 10 parking bays for aircraft.
MRIA from day one will be able to handle the super jumbo A380, which Sri Lanka's main aerodrome Bandaranaike International Airport, cannot accommodate as yet.
A further investment of 120 million U.S. dollars has been earmarked under stage one to set up additional facilities as well. Stage two will see MRIA expanded to handle 5 million passengers with 15 aero bridges and 20 parking slots for aircraft.
Cargo capacity under stage one is 45,000 metric tons and up to 150,000 metric tons under stage two.
Aviation Deputy Minister Priyankara Jayaratne told the media ahead of the opening that apart from SriLankan Airlines and Mihin Air, Middle Eastern carrier Air Arabia has confirmed scheduled flights, whilst FlyDubai will follow suit.
"We are also talking to Emirates, Qatar and Etihad," he added. Emirates had already announced that they will send a top delegation to the gala opening presided over by President Mahinda Rajapaksa which will be telecast live on Monday morning.
A special Emirates flight has also been chartered by the Sri Lankan embassy in the United States to arrive at the opening. Invitations had gone out to Sri Lankans and non-citizens last month to confirm booking for what was tagged by the embassy as " historic event".
"With efforts put in so far and those planned for the near future, MRIA will not be a white elephant but provide a great benefit to national economy and the people," he added.
Air Arabia, the Sharjah-based United Arab Emirates national budget airline earlier this month announced it will fly to Sri Lanka's Chinese-funded second international airport.
Air Arabia will add twice weekly non-stop services between Sharjah and Mattala beginning with the inaugural flight on March 18.
From May 19, the budget airline will increase services to Mattala four times a week to accommodate summer travel.
The launch of services to Mattala will complement Air Arabia's existing nine weekly flights from Sharjah to Colombo. The airline currently offers daily flights to Colombo, twice daily on Tuesdays and Fridays.
"Our new service to Mattala is in direct response to passenger demand, and will contribute to the trade and tourism ties between UAE and Sri Lanka," Adel Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer of Air Arabia, said in a statement.
In addition, SriLankan Airlines, the country's national carrier, will be flying the inaugural flight to MRIA on March 18.
During the first phase, SriLankan Airlines will be operating two flights to Riyadh, four to Male, two to Beijing and one to Shanghai via Bangkok, while there will be two Mihin Lanka flights operating to Bodh Gaya in India.
"Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport opens up many prospects for SriLankan Airlines to widen its reach while contributing to the country's development drive. SriLankan's role in MRIA is sure to expand with the arrival of more airlines and the increase of passenger flow," said SriLankan Airlines Chairman Nishantha Wickramasinghe.
SriLankan Airlines will be the sole ground handler at MRIA providing full services including passenger services, baggage services and cargo handling for charters and privately owned aircraft.
All the staff for MRIA was recruited from the Hambantota District and was given six months of training at Bandaranaike International Airport. SriLankan will also post experienced staff from BIA for the initial operations for a period of one year.
Airport and Aviation Services Ltd. (AASL) Chairman Prasanna Wickramasuriya stated that 2,000 hectares have been allocated for MRIA, of which the first stage encompasses only 800 hectares, with 400 hectares taken up for the main airport and the balance for related infrastructure and industries.
The Sri Lankan government hopes that the existing potential and completed projects of Hambantota including the 1.2 billion U.S. dollar sea port also funded by China and investment zone will complement and boost the MRIA.
"The Mattala Airport is not only for Hambantota, but encompasses three other provinces, Uva and Sabaragamauwa in addition to Southern and nine districts overall," Wickramasuriya added.
The second international airport will open new economic opportunities to the impoverished south of the country and boost overall growth for Sri Lanka.