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CONQUERING THE SKY - Daily News Special supplement to mark the opening of Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Hambantota | dailynews.lk

Rising to the blue skies

The opening of Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, Sri Lanka’s second international airport, would open new prospects in Sri Lanka’s aviation sector which completed 100 years recently.

The Rajapaksa International Airport also implies that Sri Lanka is on the way towards becoming the aviation hub of Asia and Winning the Blue Sky, concepts come under Mahinda Chinthana, the Future Vision of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Sri Lanka is on a fast track to development with the end of the three-decade war. The government implemented massive development programmes throughout the country within three years following the end to the conflict. Today, country’s development has made it feasible to visualize Sri Lanka as a commercial, aviation, naval, information technology and knowledge hub of Asia. As it is mentioned in Mahinda Chinthana, government policy is to develop the country into five hubs. As a linking hub, the aviation hub is the one which will assist the growth of other hubs.

Tourist destination

When we closely scrutinize the development path of some countries like Singapore, they have achieved their development goals through the development of aviation. As a popular tourist destination, development of the aviation sector is very much significant to achieve future demands in the tourism sector.

As a result of globalization, transportation and communication has become most important logistics to deal with other countries in the world. As an island, Sri Lanka has to completely depend on either shipping or aviation to deal with the rest of the world. Shipping is needed more for transportation of goods and aviation is the speedy means for public transportation. Not only for traveling aviation also play a key role of a country’s economic and social development of the country.

As a leader with a correct vision of the country’s future, President Mahinda Rajapaksa has identified the aviation as a primary area that needs to be focused through the development drive of the government. Broadening the capacity of aviation has become a prime objective of the government.

Recalling the proud history of civil aviation Sri Lanka, Director General of Civil Aviation H M C Nimalsiri said that the first airplane arrived on the shores of Sri Lanka by sea in a ship called ‘Rabenfels’ on September 12, 2011 for the use of an Englishman named Colin Brown.

Initial stages

“The aircraft had an Anzani 25 horse power engine and was built in France. The airplane was rated as the best flying machine in the world, after Louis Bleriot flew it across the English Channel from Calais to Dover on July 25, 1909. The Bleriot aircraft did not fly during the first few months after arrival in Sri Lanka. It had been exhibited in different locations and people had bought tickets to see the wonder machine that was capable of traveling in air.” he said.

The Director General also mentioned that a German pilot named Franz Oster arrived in Sri Lanka in December 1911. He brought with him a monoplane called an Etrich Taube. Oster became the first pilot to lift off to the skies of Sri Lanka. In the first attempt Oster climbed into a cockpit, revved his engines, rolled on the grass at Colombo Race Course, and shot out to the virgin sky of Lanka. In so doing, he managed to reach a height of 40 feet but crashed and sustained minor injuries.

Oster did another attempt which was also not successful. For his third attempt at flying the Sri Lankan sky, Oster used Colin Brown’s Bleriot monoplane which was on exhibition. Third time too, Oster was unlucky. He brought the Bleriot that was being displayed at the Colombo Racquet Club to fly. That time he collided with a bamboo sticking out of the Royal College building and crash-landed onto the Race Course grounds. Oster suffered a shoulder dislocation, cuts & bruises. The plane was badly damaged. None of Oster’s sorties into the skies qualified to be told first flight in Sri Lanka as those sorties could not complete the essential basic characteristics of a full flight; the takeoff, circuit and landing safely.

First flight

“In the early morning on December 7, 1912, at Colombo Race Course grounds, two Frenchmen Georges Verminck and Marc Pourpre, managed to take-off in Bleriot aircraft, fly and land safely thus recording the first flight in the skies of Sri Lanka.” he said.

“According On February 28, 1938 the formal opening of the Ratmalana Airport for civil aviation and the official inauguration of the first direct regular airmail service under the British Empire Air Mail Scheme (AMS) from Sri Lanka was performed by the Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott at the invitation of Sir John L Kotelawala Minister of Communications and Works.” he added.

Nimalsiri further explained at the height of World War II in the early 1940s, Allied military came to the island and established airstrips at Katunayake, Vavuniya, Puttalam, Trincomalee, and Palaly. A seaplane base was also established in Koggala, for the operation of military aircraft. Until the early 1960s, Ratmalana was the primary airport for overseas-bound commercial flights. Bandaranaike International Airport began as a Royal Air Force airfield in 1944 during the World War 11 and it was closed in 1957 after British left Sri Lanka.

“Late Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike removed all the British Military airfields from Ceylon, the airfield was handed over to the Royal Ceylon Air Force Royal air Force and renamed Katunayake. It was named after late Prime Minister S W R D Bandaranaike, in 1970. It was renamed Katunayake International Airport in 1977, but was changed back to Bandaranaike International Airport in 1995.” he said.

He further added that in 1947, the Government purchased three war-surplus Douglas DC 3 Dakota airplanes. The DC-3s were all named after queens Sita Devi, Viharamaha Devi and Sunethra Devi a tradition which continued for some years. But the birth of the new State airline was still a few months in the future. So the three aircraft, under the aegis of the Civil Aviation Department, were extensively used for pilot training and route proving duties. In June 1947, at the suggestion of Sir John Kotelawala, Viharamaha Devi flew to London to collect a valuable cargo of electoral registers for the coming elections. The historic, nine-day flight supplied further proof of what Sri Lankan aviators, and the trusty DC 3, could accomplish. On Wednesday December 10, 1947, with Capt. Peter Fernando at the controls and a complement of 16 passengers, Sita Devi rose gracefully from Ratmalana runway soon after 8 a.m. inaugurating the Air Ceylon commercial flights and headed for Palaly. Air Lanka was set up by the Government of Sri Lanka in July 1979 following the closure of Air Ceylon in 1978.

Strategic partnership

Air Lanka, which was state-owned, was part-privatized to the Dubai-based Emirates Group in 1998, when Emirates and the Sri Lankan Government signed an agreement for a ten-year strategic partnership. In 1998, the Air Lanka was rebranded ‘SriLankan Airlines’.

SriLankan was the first airline in Asia to induct fly-by-wire state of art Airbus A320 aircraft giving a tremendous boost to the airline’s image. The A330-200 aircraft joined the airline between October 1999 and July 2000.

The management contract between Emirates and the Sri Lanka Government expired on 31 March 2008. Emirates sold its stake in shares to the Government of Sri Lanka at US$ 53 million in 2010, thus ending any affiliations the two airlines had with. The airline joined the one world alliance in 2012.

Mihin Lanka which was incorporated on 27 October 2006 is a low-fare airline based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. It is wholly owned by the Sri Lankan government and commenced operations on 24 April 2007.

The airline operates scheduled flights from its hub at Bandaranaike International Airport to a number of cities in the Indian subcontinent, the Gulf States and Southeast Asia. It code-shares with its partner SriLankan Airlines on several routes, as part of a consolidation exercise between the two airlines.

Katunayake International Airport was developed under the Canadian Government’s assistance in 1963. With the development work completed in 1968, International air transport operations were shifted from Ratmalana to Katunayake. The airport had a passenger handling capacity of 1.5 million per annum at the beginning and it was subsequently expanded to 6 million passenger per annum with one pier and connecting eight aerobridges, under the Stage I-Phase II of the Airport Development Programme which was completed in November 2005.

Foundation stone

“The Government decided to construct the country’s second international airport at Mattala, Hambantota. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, launched Airport Development of this airport was launched on November 19, 2009. The foundation stone for the terminal building which can handle 1 million passengers was laid on 24th April 2011. Mattala International Airport is now ready for Flight operations.” Nimalsiri said.

Managing the overall functioning of the airport is no easy feat. It is a joint effort of number of groups. As a most responsible partner, the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation has a colossal role to play in providing better service.

Petroleum Industries Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that the CPC is ready to fuel planes at Mattala Airport. The CPC has built an aviation fuel terminal at the airport which has storage capacity of 250,000 litres. The new terminal will supply fuel at internationally competitive prices and the airport is offering lower landing fees and other charges compared to Colombo in a bid to attract business. The total cost of the project is US $ 40 million,” said the minister.

CPC, Operation Manager (Aviation) Dhammika Mallikarachchi said though there is no tank farm for Mattala airport, facilities what they have are enough to cater to present fuel demand at the airport.

He pointed out that the tank farm which will be the tank farm at the nearby Hambantota port would be completed by June this year.

“The tank farm constructed on a 16 hectare land area within the port would be completed at a cost of US$ 78 million with the financial assistance from China.

The tank farm would be used for storage of aviation fuel; LPG gas and bunkering facilities and currently at least 18 tanks have almost been completed,” he said.

He also added this tank farm is constructed by using European machineries and technologies and it will be a best tank farm in the world.

The Rajapaksa International Airport is a golden tool to meet the rapidly growing aviation needs. The opening of the new airport; world’s newest aviation hub with world-class facilities is indeed a moment to celebrate a new chapter in Sri Lanka’s aviation industry.

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