The Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) will soon start uplifting air cargo containers bringing additional revenue to the airport State Minister – Aviation and Export Zones Development, D. V. Chanaka said.
He was speaking at the launch of new scheduled airline service; Air Astana from Kazakhstan to MRIA, making it the first international airline to start flying to MRIA, during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Minister said that the cargo handling and transhipment is increasing in Hambantota Sea Port and soon air cargo operation too would commence from it to MRIA. “This is in addition to exporting local cargo mainly fruit and vegetables.”
He said that the former government used MRIA as a storage dump for paddy and soon the airport will start exporting rice as well from it. He disclosed that a minimum Rs. 300 million was spent to repair the damage to the cargo terminal and A/C system due to storing of paddy which was politically motivated. Minister Chanaka also said that flydubai too would start operations to MRIA soon along with several other airlines. “In a bid to attract more airlines to fly to MRIA we have decided to extend the ‘grace period’ offered for ‘landing and parking’ for 9 more months. “In addition we have reduced ground handling fees by 50% and will also offer concessions for fuelling.”
The Minister also said that they have also achieved 30% success for the MRO negotiations with a European based airline and when this is complete most the airline ‘C checks’ maintenance, and repair of airlinesin the region would be done at MRIA. Vice President IT and e- business Air Astana Chamindra Lenawa, Air Astana said that they were very happy with the geographical layout and facilities of MRIA which is ideally suited for tourism.
The airline will utilize flying to MRIA to explore the possibility of opening up the Western European and North American markets to garment manufacturers and the Middle Eastern and South Asian markets for Sri Lankan perishables such as tea, sea food, fruits and vegetables through its cargo operations.
The inaugural flight using the new Airbus A321LR, with a capacity of 169 passengers on the route Almaty/Mattala/Almaty arrived on Saturday and will continue until end April 2021,” said Chairman Lanka Sportreizen (local GSA for the airline) Tilak Weerasinghe. “Air Astana is looking to increase the frequency to two from April,” he said. Air Astana is a full-service international carrier. Air Astana operates the youngest fleet in the world with 32 brand new aircraft.