Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day

Mattala Airport Map

Not the best place for an airport.

To quote Mili, Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day. Seriously, the government has blanketed state and non-state media with advertisements heralding the opening of a new airport in the rural south. They’re trying to buy buzz for a project which is too useless to generate it naturally. Nobody is talking about how awesome the Mattala Airport is of their own accord, so the government has used public money (and private advertising) to buy whole sections. The best is this Daily News article which starts off as a Dialog phone launch and inexplicably segways into a long story about the airport.

Sri Lanka does need another airport, but it has been placed in a random place because the President is from there. See this quote from the Daily News:

According to Wickramanayaka, Hambantota will be the next capital of Sri Lanka due to its ample space vacant for opportunity. According to him the fact that the airport and port, being bigger than the Katunayaka Airport and Colombo port, will attract many business opportunities.

“This is where we belong. Galle was the capital when the Dutch were here and Colombo was the capital when the British were here but now it is time we go back to the capital which was truly local and before the invasion, the late Magampura and the present Hambantota, we are going back home,” he said.

The broader project really does seem to be, as kings did in the past, to move the capital to someplace random. What I think they have backwards is that ports and airports do not in themselves generate growth out of nothing. If you put ports near places with business and populations they can be force multipliers. You can’t drop a port and expect that to generate business and human migration immediately. It’s a bit like opening a mall in Hambantota rather than Colombo. Except this is a whole lot more expensive than a mall.

Mattala is near nothing except a lot of parks and bird sanctuaries. The closest big town is Matara, which is only close in the sense that Ratnapura is close to Colombo. Besides that it’s vaguely close to Badulla to the north. To the east is a lot of protected land and nature reserves that you have to go around.

This airport is of really limited value except as a second airport for emergencies. If the Rajapakses weren’t so parochial they could have put the airport near a growing population (like the North Central Province) or something that should grow (Trinco) or a place that a lot of foreigners would like to fly to (Jaffna). Or anywhere else really. This is literally the dumbest place to put an airport, and airport which makes no sense unless you’re from nearby Beliatta, where the first family is from.

The government is spinning this as a boon to the least developed areas, but it’s not that. Spending public money and incurring debt to build inefficient projects is not a boon to anyone. It’s a waste, and given our current tax structure, one borne more heavily by the poor.

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2013-03-18 15:10:50

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 15:11:48

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 15:13:04

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 15:13:04

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 15:52:37

@indica Thanks for the special mention. ;)

2013-03-18 15:58:27

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 15:58:27

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 16:36:24

Thanks for quoting me and the link love. Much appreciated.

As for the Banana republic… oh well.

2013-03-18 16:38:10

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 17:00:37

Wake up Lankans! Or get the hell out before Mr.Rajapakse get you to was his ass!!

2013-03-18 17:01:57

I meant wash*

2013-03-18 19:00:00

I think the logic being Harbor and Airport in same area.
NCP, makes sense for airport but no harbor.
Trinco, Harbor there but I think it is used mainly for defense.
Also out of the way for refueling etc of ships traveling from mid-east to SE Asia.

So that leaves the south, and the places with ample space would be south of Tangalle.

2013-03-18 21:23:04

RT @indica: Happy Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport Day: Not the best place for an airport. http://t.co/GHuqgJbWdn

2013-03-18 21:37:40

I don’t see the point of a 2′nd commercial airport for a small country like sri lanka. What we need is a good ground transportation like high speed rails to connect cities.

2013-03-18 22:01:40

There is some serious misunderstanding of the allocation of scarce resources. We seem to be spending money on things we don’t need now and NOT spending money on things we need. SO in the end, we will have white elephants dotting the country, and as we have NOT put resources where they are needed, have NO ONE to enjoy these white elephants. We would have killed our populations.

CKDU (Kidney Disease) is likely to kill 250,000 people in the NCP and we have not spent any time and effort studying the cost benefits of the solutions available- to quote just one example of what I am trying to get at.

I completely agree that it is the wrong place. If the airport was in Hingurakgoda, Trinco on a highway will be only 30 minutes, a more sensible choice given both populations, already existing largest natural harbor in the world and an airfield already in existence which just needs runway extensions and widening, with a maximum displacement of 500 homes.

I know it is water under the bridge, but we could have had a spare $1B for real productive industries if we went as I suggested. How many years will be be paying for these follies? Too late now, and not even a highway to Mattala in sight.

2013-03-18 23:01:05

In my opinion, Hambantota certainly has the potential to become a key regional economic hub. In addition to the infrastructure upgrades such as the port, airport and possible extension of the E01, there is an abundance of cheap land, two of the most populous districts with some of the highest populations of skilled labor on its door step. Give it 10-15 years without civil unrest, a robust and unwavering business policy unaffected by politics and it can transform the region. But it will not be any competition to Colombo. It shouldn’t be.

All I am saying is that whatever the reasons may be for its initiation, this is a place with true potential and as Sri Lankans we should help it get there.

Best case example -> Dubai. 8th busiest transshipment harbor in the world (Colombo is the 14th and Singapore is no 1) a country whose economy developed rapidly through its port related economic policies in the 70′s despite being so far away from any of the major shipping lanes. Dubai had Iran as the opportunity. We have India and a lot more.

So 10-15 years without civil unrest, a robust and unwavering business policy unaffected by politics.

2013-03-20 11:47:27

Spent some time thinking about this. My analysis is here:


2013-03-19 08:26:35

I thought his name is Mahinda Rajapakshe and not Mattala Rajapaksha!

2013-03-19 10:09:04

Really Indi I would have thought you can see the opportunity!

2013-03-19 12:13:12

Of course, the commissions, contracters, what an opportunity…

2013-03-19 11:03:30

The problem with Hambantota is that it is

a) thinly populated
b) far away from other population centres.

Infrastructure will work if it is in a population centre, links to a population centre or is close to one.

In the middle of nowhere it seems to make little sense.

2013-03-19 12:42:58

Well it doesn’t make sense to build a port somewhere, then an air port in some other place and industrial zones in another location etc etc. So since the government went ahead with building the port in Hambantota it makes sense to build the 2nd air port in the same location and try to push it as a industrial zone.

But we have to agree that Mahinda chose Hambantota for all these not because Hambantota was strategic and because it is his home town. I don’t think choosing Hambantota for port was right but the decision is made. There are no options now but to go ahead with the grand Hambantota plan.

Trinco would have been a much more strategic choice for all these. Remember trinco is worlds 5th largest natural harbour and while we had the worlds 5th largest natural harbor we built a man made harbor. And trico is closer to India. Trico has plenty of land just like in Hambantota and an air port in Trinco also makes sense because it is closer to places that cannot be serviced from Katunayake.

The biggest disadvantages in Hambantota are it is placed rather remotely and there are not enough water.

2013-03-19 15:29:42

Those who support this expensive folly don’t explain why a second international airport is required in Sri Lanka. $200 million will take a very long time to recover, if ever. I read in the Daily Mirror today that interest payments already account for 38% of Govt expenditure, so there should be a very clear and transparent cost benefit analysis of all such massive loans.

This airport is only here because the Chinese have huge sovereign wealth funds with which to foster influence and the GoSL are obsessed with vanity projects and swinging their dicks in front of the International Community. If you disagree, carefully read MR’s vitriolic justifications for the airport in the papers today. All about projecting power, nothing about practicalities.

Building infrastructure is no guarantee of economic growth, just look at all the airports built in Spain with cheap EU loans, now sitting underused and decaying. I don’t see a thorough economic development plan to justify this vast expense.

Sri Lanka is an horrendously inefficient country, propped up by very low wages. What the people need is good road and rail connections and more renewable electricity generation capacity. The cost of living is about to jump again, with electricity prices going up by 60% for the majority of poor consumers. This sort of expenditure does nothing to help people with their real day to day problems.

2013-03-19 17:54:36

I don’t think $200 million(Rs25 billion) is an amount we can’t afford. For example I think the loss on CEB for previous year was over Rs100 billion. If we can lose over Rs 25billion for state enterprises each year and still don’t bother about that how is an Rs 25biilion project that is going to service the country for well over 30 years is a burden?

Having said that this was just the phase 1 of the project. What is worrying is the government is going ahead with phase 2 even without waiting to measure the success of phase 1.

Tania P.
2013-03-20 13:32:01

The likes of CEB accumulating such losses is even more reason to stop wasting public money any more white elephants.

I am not a tree-hugger, but one look at google maps will tell anyone with half-a-brain how much of an environment disaster this would turn out to be (especially with subsequent phases of expansion around the airport).

I wish they would stop wasting money on schemes like harbours and airports in such remote areas and spend more money on much needed internal infrastructure like the southern highway. But then again, I guess “Mahinda Rajapakshe highway” doesn’t have that same ring to it compared to “Mahinda Rajapakshe Harbour”.

(Comments wont nest below this level)
2013-03-19 16:06:16

n the Daily Mirror interview, Basil tries to explain the real reason for the second airport. And it’s literally unbelievable.

Basil: “Firstly, when you don’t have two airports what happens is that if a plane needs to land in an emergency then it has no choice but to go to another country. This means that the plane needs to carry more fuel and fewer passengers— which in turn means that air-tickets are more expensive and there is less of an incentive for airlines to come to SriLanka.”

How is this man still breathing? Why should an aircraft, in an emergency on approach to Katunayake, divert to India? If it’s already on approach to Katu, it’ll just land at Katu. It’s not as if the airspace at CMB is congested like in Europe. Aircraft have to carry extra fuel for at least 30 mins of extra flying time for emergencies, weather etc. It’s internationally mandated. This additional fuel load is already allowed for with a full passenger load.

The incentive for an airline to open a route to SL is based on the load factor. i.e. how many passengers it’ll carry on each flight to ensure a profitable route and not the cost of diversionary fuel carriage. BA are starting a route to CMB in March because I guess they’ve got enough passengers wishing to come here.

I know that BR knows his percentages (Mr 10%-20%), but aviation matters appear to beyond him.

Basil: “Secondly, when you don’t have another international airport, the insurance costs are also higher— because the risk of the plane is higher than when you have an alternative airport in your country. Thereby a second airport ensures that the premium of the insurance is also lower, this means more carriers would want to come toSri Lanka.”

Is this true?

2013-03-20 09:13:48

Well the 100 billion loss kind of is a burden, we pay a lot for electricity and the rates are going to go up again after New Years. What made you think that the losses for the state enterprises are nothing to be bothered about?

2013-03-20 09:58:15

It is something to be bothered but it is something that we aren’t bothered about.

2013-04-11 02:57:04

I really like it when individuals come together and share
ideas. Great blog, continue the good work!

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