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.