An airport for people vs. a great confusion for birds
This election season, two sides are having a pissing contest about airports. In this case, however, the SLPP is completely incontinent. Their airport (Mattala) cost over $200 million USD never had even a drip of customers, because they built it in the jungle.
In contrast, the Jaffna Airport is basically just a runway, everything around it seems to flood, and it’s not fancy at all. However, it only cost about $10 million USD and already has flights because human beings live there.
Hence it’s not really a contest at all. Jaffna is an airport and Mattala is a joke.
Please just have a look at where these airports are.
This is the Mattala Airport, in Hambantota District. It is near a lot of wildlife, one really nice resort hotel, and whole bunch of empty infrastructure. I have been to Hambantota and the town itself is a sleepy fishing village. All of the development and roads have actually cut that town off from any traffic. The nearest big town is Matara, which is 2.5 hours away. The whole district is 96% rural and it’s an extremely dumb place to put an airport.
The Rajapaksas literally wanted an airport near their house and just did it. That’s about the extent of the feasibility study — ‘it’s near my house’. They also put a cricket stadium and seaport and a convention center and a bunch of other hideously expensive infrastructure that no one uses.
It was a collosal and frankly criminal waste. The airport alone cost $209 million USD and is now effectively closed except for emergency landings. The whole Hambantota ghost town is a monument to the corruption and hubris of the Rajapaksas.
Above is the Jaffna Airport. For starters it only cost us Rs. 1.9 billion (about $10.5 million USD) with India putting up Rs. 300 million. That is, the total cost was probably less than the Rajapaksa’s pocketed in commission on Mattala.
The facilities look basic AF but they serves a human need. You can land a plane there. People in Jaffna currently have to travel 8 hours to Colombo to catch a one hour flight. They have deep connections to India and vice versa; there is demand. It makes sense to have an airport here, because there are people here.
This airport makes sense.
Yes, a few days after opening, the airport seems to have flooded. And the Rajapaksas are crying crocodile tears about this, saying that the airport is not up to standard. But airports flood. Kochi has flooded, Chennai has flooded, especially with climate change, things flood.
The water goes away but the people and demand remain. This is what makes Jaffna a viable airport as opposed to Mattala.
The fact is that the Rajapaksas didn’t develop areas like Jaffna or Trinco because those were Tamil areas. They brought ‘development’ to their home district, even though it made zero sense and actually contributed zero value for the people living there, since all the workers came from China.
The complaints about Jaffna Airport are largely about Tamil people having anything. Wimal Weerawansa is screaming that the Jaffna signboard is written in Tamil first, like every signboard in Jaffna, including the SLPP headquarters. They’re screaming about three inches on a signboard. They literally do not want to give Tamil people an inch. It’s just racism.
Namal and his homies complain about the airport flooding, but their answer is to build pristine infrastructure at a hideous cost where no one will use it.
Personally, I’ll take a $10 million dollar airport with flooding over a $200 million airport with zero people and a deadly birdstrike waiting to happen. We can spend a few hundred thousand dollars on drainage. There’s nothing we can do to make Mattala viable because it’s a stupid idea in the first place.
I’ve called it a battle of two airports, but it’s really a battle of an airport vs a bunch of hot air. The Jaffna Airport is an airport for humans whereas Mattala is just a massive confusion for birds.