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Hambantota International: The World’s Emptiest Airport?

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The dual carriageway could be anywhere… Germany, the US, Sweden… Its sharp new signs direct traffic off a wide ramp towards the spiffy airport, still smelling of clean since its inauguration in 2013.

Except that my car is the only one on this road.

I share part of the highway with a herd of buffalo. Eventually a lone bicycle pedals up towards me, in my lane, heading the wrong way.

Who cares?

No one’s coming.

oxen in Sri Lanka

 

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ 

The French call it the folie des grandeurs.

In English we say something has “gone to his head”.

In Sri Lanka they call it Hambantota International Airport (also known as Mattala Rajapaksa), a folly built by Sri Lanka’s previous president at a cost of US$210 million.

On a recent whirlwind tour of Sri Lanka I decided to take a look, as would any worthy aviation geek. I don’t love flying, but I’m hooked on everything that surrounds it.

It looks like any modern airport. The access way, the statuary at the entrance and then – a gate.

Gate to Hambantota International Airport
A quick hop to the military guardhouse and the gate squeals open, just wide enough to let a single automobile through.

A few twists and turns and the entrance to the airport comes into view.

Entrance to Hambantota International Airport

A bit desolate. At the door, two ATMs stand flashing, a security guard marches back and forth, and neatly aligned baggage trolleys wait for hands to push them.

And then this sign: Entrance Fee 100 Rs.

Entrance fee? To an airport?

Right now this entrance fee is the airport’s main moneymaker – and not a huge one at that. The day I visited, a single other family was there. Some days no one comes at all.

I pay.

The automatic glass door slides open and the guard snaps to attention, pointing from my bag to the conveyor belt. Like an airport.

I recover my bag at the other end and walk into a magnificent hall of stone and marble, with soaring ceilings and glass partitions that keep out the heat beating over a manicured lawn. My lone footseps echo like a clap in an empty theater.

A glass-encased Buddha sits serenely at one end, wishing everyone a safe journey.

The departure hall is cordoned off and lined with empty check-in counters, its lights dimmed. People mill around – but they are staff, some of the more than 100 air traffic controllers, tourist office hostesses, bank tellers, security guards, cafeteria workers, cleaners, gardeners and shop assistants who work here.

Empty hallway of Hambantota International Airport
A single flight is due today, at 6pm with FlyDubai, a low-cost airline. Staff is optimistic that another flight might be added.

“Maybe. Soon.”

A few SriLankan Airlines flights tried their luck (ordered to do so by the then government) but halted operations right after the election because the route was so unprofitable.

Some days, two or even three passengers embark or disembark here. Often, no one leaves the plane here at all. Most flights are in transit to or from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, their passengers probably wondering why on earth they are landing in this ghost terminal.

This manifest shows that on one specific day, all of three passengers disembarked here.

Arrivals at Hambantota International Airport

The story behind Hambantota International

The initial justification for the airport was its location in the country’s South, where many travelers head for sea and sun. Having an airport nearby would seem to make sense.

Except that when the airport was initially planned, Sri Lanka was headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, a native of Hambantota, a fishing village rebuilt after the 2004 tsunami. He was able to secure financing from China, keen to strengthen her foothold in this part of the world.

And, it was argued, landing at Hambantota would cut travel time to the South’s resorts.

But both the motorway and the railway line to the South have been improved and extended so you’d think that would be enough.

I decided to check, just for fun. Here’s what I found.

Driving from Hambantota airport to Galle, a World Heritage Site and one of Sri Lanka’s most visited cities, takes 3hrs 42min (according to the transportation website, Rome2rio.com). From Colombo, already served by an international airport, the ride takes only 1hr 49min – about half, mostly because of the quality of the road. From Colombo airport to Weligama right on Sri Lanka’s southern tip is a drive that takes 2hrs 2min – the exact time it would take from Hambantota.

There is no time advantage, at least not yet. Had President Rajapaksa been re-elected, he might have followed through on road improvements and cut travel time that way.

Instead, the airport sits among a plethora of equally white elephants: the deep-water port (although the new government is now saying it might push ahead and finish it), a five-star hotel, a 35,000-spectator cricket field (the town’s population is around 11,000) and a world-class convention center, lying empty (it has hosted only one event since its inauguration and now handles mostly weddings).

These I didn’t see but if they’re in the same shape as the airport, they’ll be beautiful, modern, pristine – and filled with absolutely no one.

If and when this mostly rural district is developed, the airport might come in handy, providing a boost to this poor region. But not yet, not now.

And the price paid for the airport has been high, not only in the debt that will saddle Sri Lanka for years but in environmental destruction: the airport straddles several wildlife habitats including elephant and leopard. It also sits right along a bird migratory route, which might explain why three major bird collisions – one with a flock of peacocks – were reported in less than a year by (the very few) airlines flying into this airport.

There’s not much chance of rerouting the birds or of convincing more airlines to fly… so at least for now, I’d be inclined to believe this just might be the world’s emptiest airport.

Check-in at Hambantota International Airport

Garden at Hambantota International Airport

Empty departure lounger at Hambantota International Airport

Empty runway at Hambantota International Airport

Empty parking lot at Hambantota International Airport

Things every Woman on the Road should know

  • There is no public transportation to the airport but you can drive or take a taxi.
  • When you get to the closed gate just ask the guard at the guardhouse to open it – he will, just for you.
  • There are rumors local operators are guiding “white elephant tours” to see the various over-promised structures, but I haven’t been able to find anything about them. If you do let me know!

 

69 Comments

  1. Ursula on June 22, 2015 at 7:44 am

    Thanks for the post, this was new to me. This is by far the strangest airport I heard about. I wonder if they could have spent a part of the money in something more useful…

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 22, 2015 at 10:34 am

      Having seen the poverty in this region, I can safely say YES!

    • Ashan Mendis on July 12, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Are you kidding that would mean to help people

      • TMA on July 12, 2015 at 3:10 pm

        @ Ashan (facepalm)

    • Heshan on July 12, 2015 at 8:26 pm

      Its in my country and yes that airport isn’t that much useful. But one day it might because Hambantota is still a developing region. 🙂

      • Paddy on July 24, 2015 at 12:18 pm

        In that case, the region should first be developed before building an airport. This is another ‘Putting the cart before the horse” story.

  2. Kristin Henning on June 22, 2015 at 9:44 am

    Nice story; I can imagine it well. It reminds me of Polaris World near Murcia, Spain. That was built for tens of thousands and has a hundred or so inhabitants. Love the idea of white elephant tours (but maybe just the idea).

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 22, 2015 at 10:31 am

      Murcia, hm? Sounds intriguing and next time I’m in that part of Spain I’ll check it out. I wonder what happened to Gander Airport in Newfoundland, Canada… that was built to refuel transatlantic aircraft but new longer-range planes turned it into a white elephant as well…

      • Lucie on June 22, 2015 at 4:24 pm

        I know Gander had a nice role to play in 9-11, several flights were rerouted there. Probably more action than it handled in years!

        • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 24, 2015 at 1:44 pm

          Ah yes, you’ve refreshed my memory, it did!

  3. Kerwin on June 22, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    this is a great find @Leyla. I enjoyed your story being the aviation geek I am.
    I love the Sri Lanka airports.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 23, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      Glad you liked it! It’s not every day you get an airport all to yourself!

  4. Piyanga on June 23, 2015 at 2:54 am

    Thanks a lot Leyla for the insightful article on one of the most wasteful developments the previous government has done. it is also sad to see the environmental destruction the airport has caused and threats the surrounding bird sanctuary faces.

    Just a few updates:

    – the airport currently makes around 16000 Sri Lankan rupees a month where as the debt and interest payments reach a few hundred millions.
    – the government has been in talks with few interested parties to set up an MRO facility in the airport that’s gonna cost about 40billion rs (if i remember correctly) in hopes to earn profits as flying commercial airlines into the airport is both pointless and loss making

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 23, 2015 at 2:23 pm

      Here’s hoping a way is found to turn this to good – but I don’t think a commercial airport, given the circumstances, will ever survive here… many thanks for the extra information.

      • Art on July 12, 2015 at 5:54 am

        Personally i think this should be turned into a great training school for the whole APAC region. I mean there is a fully fledged airport in the middle of nowhere.. might as well use it to train pilots, maintenance teams, air traffic controllers and ground staff.. that would be a bette legacy than being a stop on the white elephant tour.. 🙂

        • paul on July 13, 2015 at 12:44 pm

          The migratory birds would make this a pretty dangerous training area. Unless you mean training in emergency situations? 😛

          • Art on July 14, 2015 at 12:17 pm

            Where else in the world can you get to experience a major engine failure outside of a simulator.. real world.. real thrills.. real pilots.. lol!



  5. Jesse on June 24, 2015 at 1:31 am

    Looks very cool, kind of spooky! I’d like to check it out myself some day.

  6. Izy Berry - The Wrong Way Home on June 24, 2015 at 7:42 am

    This airport is so isolate… it was expected to stimulate the development and infrastructure in the area, raising living standards of the people not only in Hambantota, but in nearby Matara, Moneragala and other close districts.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on June 24, 2015 at 8:19 am

      That was the rationale with which the former President sold the idea, yes… but all experts seem to agree that the region simply isn’t ready for this level of infrastructure – a lot more basic services have to be put into place before launching megaprojects. What stings is that all these projects cost hugely. Sri Lanka isn’t one of the world’s poorest countries but it is by no means rich. All this money could have gone to roads (that were needed), health care and so much more… and now the country will be massively indebted to China and that’s not good either.

  7. Andrea on June 29, 2015 at 1:57 am

    Sublimely fascinating … loved this post!

  8. Wendy on July 1, 2015 at 1:58 am

    I live in Laos and the Vientiane Times recently announced the opening of Attapeu International Airport in the south. Built by the Chinese, I think, and no plans, even by the national carrier, Lao Airlines, for flights. The Lao government’s answer to the declining elephant population seems to be to build an increasing number of white elephants. (The old name for the country was Lan Xang – the land of a million elephants – it is estimated that here are only 900 left!)

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 1, 2015 at 7:21 am

      I’m so sad to hear about the elephants in Laos… and China continues to make its mark throughout the region. It will soon be, if it isn’t already, the supreme power in the region – motorways, airports, deep-water ports, dams and other mega-infrastructure… I remember Vientiane when many of the streets were still dust 🙂

      • Karen talbot on October 13, 2015 at 5:37 am

        I also live in Laos. I wish I could post you a picture of our airport, Xieng khouang. It is not so modern. Staff use 1970s typewriters and passport details are handwritten in a large ledger. We have one flight in and out some days a week between here and Vientiane (half hour flight) There is one all-purpose landslide space, a couple of staff side rooms and a departures waiting area. Smaller than many a house. Oh and the Chinese investors and partners can’t fly in here direct, because we aren’t designated and staffed for international arrivals.

        We have no elephants on the runway here, but plenty of other animal entertainment in and around the airport. Which reminds me of Parma airport in Italy. Another small one in a former hometown of mine. There wasn’t any technical equipment used to get rid of the big swarms of birds that can get in engines and such like. But we had a fine bird of prey on the staff with his minder. All dressed up in his leather bondage gear (bird not minder) he did a fine job of scaring the birds away. And possible the children as well …..

        • Leyla Giray Alyanak on October 21, 2015 at 1:53 pm

          I love these smaller airports! I remember landing in Lalibela when the runway was still made of grass and watching children shoo away the wildlife so we could land… goats, I believe, calmly grazing.

  9. Minura on July 11, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    Hi! I am from Sri Lanka and I can assure you that this airport has nothing to do with the interests of the people of Sri Lanka. It was built with the pure intention of 1)gaining votes from the hambantota electorate 2)commissions, billions of rupees in commission. If you find this weird you would be interested in the world’s biggest man made fish pond; the hambantota harbour.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 11, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      Thanks for confirming this – and I DID want to go to the harbour but ran out of time. It’s amazing what can happen when politics and ego meet…

    • Achini Jay on July 12, 2015 at 6:05 pm

      Can’t call it a fish pond, Minura- if it was, we would have at least had a better fishing industry

  10. Randika on July 12, 2015 at 4:20 am

    I totally agree with minura and he saying totally ture. THIS IS THE BIGGEST WHITE ELEMENT made by the Mahinda Rajapaksha with CHINES government for commission of billions of rupees for him self , and his sons. These all will make our country like Greece in one day. I really hate what he did and he must have put these money to built some production company which brings some money to our country and have more job opportunities.

    If you landed to this air port and already visit around they you already had the tour of white elephants

  11. Kamal on July 12, 2015 at 6:15 am

    Politicians often consider public money their personal wealth. This is a perfect example of that. I hope Sri Lanka will vote out candidates such as those in their upcoming general elections whichever the political parties they belong to.

  12. vishva on July 12, 2015 at 6:35 am

    Recently Lufthansa airline negotiated with SL gov to build thiet repair hub in this airport. If it was successful per month it could facilitate 300 airlines. This area is gonna be the commercial capital of Sri Lanka. They build all of these infrasttucture within 5 years. No city has gained impressuve results within such a short time. Sea port nw earns 5.2 billion ruppees per month. Without perfect accessing to this airport we can not expect a boost nw.after completion investers were keen to invest on airport. Due to the pooitical unstability they ddnt proceed. It will settle soon. Bt 2020 it wil be another colombo. 2030 it wil be another Dubai.

    • Kalindu on July 13, 2015 at 1:31 pm

      The seaport earns that amount (I don’t know where you got that figure from, but let’s just assume you didn’t make it up, or that the pro-mahinda camp didn’t make it up) simply because the previous government forced pretty much all ships carrying vehicles to travel to this port instead of colombo, resulting in even higher prices for vehicles for consumers since they then need to be transported via road to colombo anyway where the distributors are. This is manufactured prosperity for armchair economists like you who think saying “development is happening” and “infrastructure” and “it will be like dubai” makes you experts. But good luck with the eternal hoping.

    • Keerthi on July 14, 2015 at 2:14 am

      I am surprised to see there are still people in Sri Lanka who thinks like Vishva. I think the last point he makes “by 2030 it will be another Dubai” is hilarious. Sure Vishva dream on. The Sea port has some business because it has been made mandatory to transport all the vehicles down there. Most of these vehicles have to be transported back to Colombo or their final destination at the cost of the owner and the long vehicle carriers that transport vehicles from Hambantota to Colombo causes heavy traffic jams in the narrow roads. Therefore not only its a white elephant but also causes greater public inconvenience just to make sure it has some business. As to other white elephants that are lying around in Hambantota (referred to the by Vishva as the infrastructure built within five years) such as Convention Hall that has never been used, six lane roads where more lanes are used by Buffaloes and other ungulates (including the two legged variety that still think Mahinda Rajapakse can come back to power and deliver them to promised land), a Cricket stadium that is gathering dust. I think we should thank Australia very much for outbidding us for the Commonwealth games, if not that would have added another white elephant to Hambantota Collection and another nail to Coffin that was going to burry Sri Lanka had we were to continue under the previous political regime. Sadly, the only thing impressive about Hambatota is that previous government has made more bad investments in this city than any city around the world and maybe one day they will be inducted to the Hall of SHAME if there ever will be one. But the rest of us who are in Sri Lanka are glad that era is over and must work continuously to ensure such stupid acts will never be repeated.

    • Kamal on July 14, 2015 at 11:40 am

      I live in Hambanthota and I can guarantee you that this will never be the next commercial capital just because we have an airport and a sea port. Incidentally, the sea port is “making” money only because it was ordered to route all vehicles imports to ththat. But that is incurring other costs like transportation of support infrastructure. We do not have the ability become a city simply since we don’t have the population that other cities like Colombo, Kurunagala, Kandy, Anuradhapura or even Jaffna. I believe this is wrong investment without proper thinking.

    • Heshan Deeyagaha on July 15, 2015 at 9:37 am

      Someone has got stuck in a dream!

    • Ryan sasuke on July 20, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      Sea port earns 5.2 billion rupees per month ? are kidding me ? from what ?

  13. I Amila Gunasekara on July 12, 2015 at 10:45 am

    When back in 2009, i was a student in a Government University and have given a project proposal under our syllabus. I choose a topic under “We do not Need 2nd Airport in Sri Lanka” and the panel was rejecting my proposal saying “I’m going against the Current Government Development”. But back in 2015, even this post not surprising me. because i reviled the same information back in 2009 and nobody was give shit to listen to it.

  14. Ahnna on July 12, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Personally, I think, this airport defo would have had potential and still can. All the best hotels, and by that I mean for beach, cultural, rural srilankan are down south. so planes landing there would be ideal as evven the journey to the hotel will give the chance for the tourist that do nothing but lay in the sun to see a beautiful county side to intrigue them to venture out side the hotels. The CB Airport is great for if u are staying with in Colombo. But Colombo is a city. Good shopping and visiting friends and family from Colombo. Anything else u really need to head inland, or down south towards gall. Sure their a highway and u can get there quick. But u don’t see the beautiful villages,towna n coastline if u did. To do that u have to use Galle Eoad which is a slow journey. Sri Lankans don’t like traffic and would love to get to places down south as soon as they can on a highway. But would a tourist like to see the beautiful country or like to just see a beautiful hotel. Personally if airlines headed to hambanthota airport, I think as a tourist, u would get a free tour of the beautiful country for free on their journey to the hotel. Which would be abt the same time frame or less if they were driving down the scenic route from CB airport. I would like Thompsons airlines (dreamliner) or other airlines to make use of this.

  15. dulanjali senadeera on July 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I love this story.

  16. Asa on July 13, 2015 at 8:04 am

    This airport is now using as the backup airport to BIA (Bandaranayake International Airport – Colombo). It saves millions of money to the country which was previously paid to India for using Thiruvananthapuram airport as the backup.

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 14, 2015 at 11:50 am

      Perhaps, but this article was written before the January 2015 elections.

  17. Suranga on July 13, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I thought i should also say something..
    What is written in article is very true, and probably most of the comments also….
    But what done is done, should we not focus on finding a way to use this somehow now?
    Anyone can criticize, can’t we be the one’s who improvise and make some use of it?

  18. Natha Sri jayasekara on July 13, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    yes, the man who sell curd near the airport makes more money than the airport. some people use the airport to dry grain in sunlight. this is true.

  19. abhaya on July 14, 2015 at 2:53 pm

    Sadly this is the most political criticized project in Sri Lankan, despite its values. Large majority in the country commenting against this airport merely without looking the bigger picture. Rathmalana airport also not operational. Why nobody yelling abt it? This only took abt 210 m$, compare it with cost of wide body passenger aircraft which is abt 300m$. after 5years from now we wouldn’t make a this type of airport even doubled the price.
    there was a requirement for a second airport for about two decades in the country. about 15 or 20 years back even IATA had shown the requirement for another airport or at least another runway for BIA. taking that into account a former UNP government had even laid a foundation stone in place called kudaoya(few kilometers away from mattala) for the second international Airport since limitations in development at katunayaka Airport. if there would be an airport it is better to built it at a different climate zone than BIA because if BIA was affected by adverse weather conditions we can use the second airport. also it is wiser to make a bigger runway(code 4F) which can handle modern A380s easily( about 3 times A380 s have landed at BIA as emergency landing by idling the two outer most engines; but that’s a risk). Considering geography, wind-directions, room for expansion there are only few places to make a better alternative airport. i guess they chose this place abt 20km away from hambantota city due to greater hambantota development program, otherwise there would be limitations to construction of high-rise structures in future.
    Before January regime change there were abt 6 flight movements a day with growing passenger demand. Lots of foreign tourists used the airport specially to travel to south and eastern coast and arugambay. So if u say lonely airport; i disagree, new government made this.
    and the most important one, its not the passenger movements and flight operations which brings profit to airport industry. since we have an airport with code 4f runway Airbus A380 s flying over our airspace have been doubled. im not sure the figure but its more than 70per day i guess. they were capitalizing routs on our skies only since they are confident of using MRIA at any emergency. They pay 250$ every time they cross over our airspace.
    in 2014 only 15000 flights have marked mattala international airport as their alternative airport. previously they all had to use south indian airport for this. so before MRIA every flight comes to BIA must take abt 5000 kg of extra fuel to reach trichi in south india now its reduced only to abt 1000 kg to travel only 20minute journey to MRIA. so for that extra 4000kg weight it would be cargo or passengers.
    As at this moment BIA runway is nearing end to its serviceable period. It’s heavily damaged and settling. It needs resurfacing and even reconstruction on some parts. That’s when we need MRIA the most, to divert flights whenever necessary.
    And the migrant bird scenario, its all bullshit. BIA has this issue more or less too. Most of the world’s major airport has this issue too. Our media makes it huge news when such things happen, bt in BIA there were abt 30 bird stricks last year. No media reported.

    This is the unsaid truth, you decide

  20. indira on July 15, 2015 at 10:17 am

    But then what happened when LTTE bombed BIA which was the one and only we had? Atleast now there is an alternate.

    • Lol Factor on July 20, 2015 at 4:06 pm

      Thanks for this great post 🙂 I enjoyed reading it.

  21. myPolitics on July 17, 2015 at 8:50 am

    I think, any airport in the world can be make empty if we (Government) stop using it (Just to show that the someone else’s – (government) plans are stupid). I am not sure about an airport earn money from the day one (more serious if the next government intentionally stop using it just to prove the people that the previous government did wrong things). Ports are also same. Now we have the facility we should use them. Singapore has developed ports not because they had excess ships coming to their country they build those and they did the marketing and all the people (politicians) back that idea. If we need to develop our country we have to have these infrastructure and we have to use them and we have to market that and we have to get rid of political revenges. Feeding the hunger with the money we spent on these does not get our country in to a developed country. I am not sure a government can start production companies (Which was a wrong thing did by a previous government at 70-77). I think governments can (should) only create the infrastructure and facilitation. Because, to start production we need talented and passionate people, can’t artificially create those by a government (Those will fail). The previous government had plans (can be viewed wrong as any plan can be criticized by some set of people) to develop this region (south). I think it is very import to have these kind of infrastructure. Currently all major thing stuck in Colombo and it’s not distributed we have to come to Colombo to do every blady thing.

    • Bala on July 25, 2015 at 5:23 am

      Ah but wind-direction is completely wrong – this particular runway is cross wind. So smaller planes can find landing tricky in monsoons both SW and NE winds. Due excess momentum the bigger planes can manage somewhat. This is not the only flaw – the major one being the only airport in the world which is on a bird migratory path and area and asking travellers to watch bird life and the habitat of the area.

  22. Björn Arvidsson on July 18, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    Really? Entrance fee to the airport? I do need to do some research on that. Thanks for great story!

  23. Suraj De Silva on July 19, 2015 at 7:19 am

    This is for the knowledge of the writer and the readers. “Some know only what they want to know and some know only what they were told” reality and the truth could be something that we never knew or get to know.
    http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33578949

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 19, 2015 at 11:09 am

      Thank you for the link, which highlights another ghost airport, this time south of Madrid in Spain. The story says there are others, notably in Castellon. I admit to being fascinated by these airports… how does one actually go as far as raising the necessary funds and actually building something this huge without some sort of certitude about its viability??

  24. sagara on July 20, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Be happy citizens! Borrowed Rupees from future generations at work. Further more, its another Guinness world record. THE EMPTIEST AIRPORT OF THE WORLD.

  25. Seyed Arshad on July 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm

    no one can Hambantota Airport is unusual, because, it holds modern facilities than Katunayake Airport. I.E. KIA doesn’t has the capability for landing Bigger planes like Airbus A380 etc. It’s runway is cannot be expandable due to lack of space. HIA has a Flight School, the first Flight School in Srilanka . Also, it is known as an Eco Friendly airport. I too agree that, HIA failed to attract people, but with proper maintanence, will be able to become one of the best airports in Asia…

  26. Pubudu on July 24, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Great article. There is no point of talking about the stupidity of the previous government. Let’s hope at least we won’t do shit like this in the future.

  27. Eddie Wijesuriya on July 25, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    It is to late to cry over spilt milk. The airport is there ,built at a tremendous cost. I think it is time that a panel of experts from the Airline trade be appointed to investigate all possibilities to make it a going concern. Try to revive any offers had earlier for turning it into an useful and profitable venture. It will take time, but we cannot let it be turned into a Museum. Why not an “AVIATION MUSEUM” for the South Ease Asian region ??

  28. S Sukumar on July 28, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    Long way away from the Politics, Cost, and Excellent journalism, I notice the architecture and interior decor is superb. I enjoyed the photographs also. Thank you

    • Leyla Giray Alyanak on July 28, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      You’re absolutely right – politics apart, it is a truly handsome structure.

  29. Mario De Silva on July 29, 2015 at 11:09 am

    Right on!

    If Sri Lanka ever needed another airport, it should have been built in the region of Dambulla.

    Dambulla would have served the north and east regions, north central, north western and central regions equally.

    It would have served most of the tourist destinationas in the cultural and north central cultural traingle, plus the easter shore destinations of trinco, batticaloa and passikudah. Most importantly most skilled and non skilled workers who travel to the middle east arr from thag region as well therefore it would have been the ideal location.

    But as you mentioned in one of your posts, ego plus political power served no one, but, well, himself.

  30. Nisal Fernando on July 29, 2015 at 2:08 pm

    This Airfield could have easily used by the Air force in Srilanka, carrying at least tourists to the region from colombo and handling security activities of SriLanka for a particular period until proper passenger service gets onto move. Due to political differences , this valuable asset left unused presently. As far as my knowledge is concern Srilanka Airforce carry out their activities from a very hectic airfield called Katunayake in a very limited space and why they cannot use this field as their main base instead. Governors of Srilanka should take this matter seriously and make this wonderful creation a worthy cause for the country.

  31. Freddy on July 30, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    Dirty politics has created a white elephant. Singapore started with a smaller airport like all nations and look today. You have the airport and Harbour, put the Customs and Immigration, health and divert all flights and vessels to the airport and Harbour. Bring in the experts and all will fall to place. Than talk. Rome was not built in a day as the saying goes. MR has the vision and capability and was proven. The current regime is only fault finding and greedy for position and devolution that is why the country was standstill to date.

  32. Prasannajit on July 31, 2015 at 7:19 am

    Mattala – the magnificent mistake
    By Capt Elmo Jayawardena
    Someone built the 35 billion-rupee airport, but forgot the taxiway
    View(s): 50

    I have not been to Mattala except passing on that 4-lane highway on my way to Yala. I knew there was a big new airport surrounded by controversy. But as it was white-washed so much in politics I paid scant attention to aeroplanes coming and going from Hambantota.
    Recently I read in the Sunday Times about the taxiways of Mattala Airport. I did not believe what the Sunday Times journalist had written but just out of curiosity I looked at a landing chart of Mattala. It shocked me to see the runway and taxiway plan of this 35 billion rupee airport. The journalist was right; we had bungled mega style. If I may manipulate Cervantes and modify his quote the expression would be “one man’s airport is to another man a complete folly.” Not even a ‘Full Fool” would have designed the absurdities of Mattala where the ground movements are concerned.
    Forget the commercial reasons; I am talking pure construction matters. Some exaggerated genius from a high political pedestal may have drawn this plan and constructed an airport with a glaring basic mistake. There is no taxi-way to reach the two ends of the runway without back-tracking on the main take-off and landing strip. Do not go far, just look at Katunayake; that will clearly tell you how international airports construct their taxiways. The ones in black are the runways and the ones in grey are the taxi ways.
    Yes, there are other places where this type of designs exists. Hululle International Airport in the Maldives is one. But the Maldivians had a reason to construct a back-tracking runway. Theirs is an island strip and there is no room to construct a separate taxi way to reach the starting point.
    How did we end up inheriting a colossal shame in aviation? Space — we had all the land we wished to construct taxi-ways and could have even gone to Bundala and back to join the runway-end if such was the ambition. But someone and some others in collective agreement constructed this taxiway-less airport. Have a look at JFK International Airport in the middle of New York City. It has four runways and all have taxi-ways to reach the end and no one back tracks to take off. Anywhere in the world it is the same. And if there is any city that is crowded for space, it is NY. But they had sensible people who know aviation to design their runways at JFK. But we? Guess some things are best left unsaid.
    Do not blame MR. It is those highly-paid so-called experts who should be castigated. The Grand-Masters who designed Mattala made it more like a cripple in crutches lining up to run a 100-metre race. Maybe it was a reincarnation of ‘Emperor’s new clothes’ syndrome, Sri Lankan style. Mattala walked naked to the cheers of ‘yes’ men who lined up to applaud all the way to Diyawanna Oya.
    So now we have a four-lane highway to bring and take out passengers, but no passengers. Runway strength and length to land the heaviest and the largest modern skybirds, but no planes. Fancy appearance and fancier electronics with instrument landing systems, but some fool forgot to have a taxiway for the jets to enter the runway without doing a 180-turn at the end. I am not even mentioning runway alignment and cross-winds, bird strikes and raping the environment. That is trivia relative to the ‘no taxiway’ construction. We will even forget the no-passenger story. All such things we know are purely political. But the construction without the proper taxiway is nothing but incompetency at the highest level and the culprit responsible should pay for that mortal sin.
    I also read in the newspapers someone advising COPE that the airport earned a lot of money from over-flying traffic. It stated that airlines flew the route on Sri Lankan skies because Mattala was there to land in case of an emergency. Tomorrow you can set fire to Mattala, burn it to the ground and paste the ashes on the foreheads of those experts; the planes will still fly the same route without batting an eyelid. That I know for sure for I have been in that sky for a long time flying heavy aeroplanes all over the world.
    Just for comparison, San Francisco International has many runways and the longest is 3,600 metres in length and 45 metres width. Mattala is 3,500 metres long and 60 metres wide. Wider than SFO and only short by 100 metres. Of course we have a brilliantly designed taxiway – my foot!
    Now let’s get back to a simple argument, kindergarten style. Someone built Mattala and another closed it and the cost was borne by the coffers of the motherland. Well! One of them has to be wrong, either the builder or the ‘shut it down’ man. But looks like no one is at fault? The reason is simple, in politics “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow.”
    What would be the solution? The taxiway problem can be sorted out if someone wakes up and admits and constructs a new taxiway. As for the airport and its commercial value, well that is a whole new ball game. Other than international passenger jets coming and landing and taking off from Mattala, any other utilisation of it would be like housing back-packers at the Taj Mahal.
    Of course there is another solution; no I am not serious, but mine in jest is no worse than the original vision of building Mattala. Send four Kobelco bulldozers and run it to the ground. After all, it is only a matter of 35 billion rupees? The people who run this country have spent a lot more than that on their whims and fancies and that started from the day we received independence.
    Elmojay1@gmail.com

  33. ananda seneviratne on July 31, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    Hello Hambantota was the least developed area of the country. No government paid any attention to developed the area because it is in the arid zone. The people who live in this area are farmers. They do cultivate vegetables and paddy mainly. The fishing harbor was one of the old, natural harbors in the island .
    It was famous harbor for the people those who cam from Java and Sumatra islands and also from the Maldives. That’s why to day the Muslim community is present in the area. The name Hambantota is a given name by the Sinhala people after the arrival of the Muslims. That was the history.
    No government made an strategy to develop the area . The people those who live in the Hambantota area has to come to Matara for many events ,Such as medical ,education, and many other necessities . Presedent Mahinda rajapaksa is the only president who has realized this , and decided to develop the area where he did during his time as the president of the country. Not only the airport , he has develop so much of other infrastructure like roads, water management, rural hospitals. education, transport,agriculture and Fishing. This air port is also one of them . Someone who hats the development can bring photos of the harbor he has made . They can say no Ships are coming to the harbor. The true story behind this is the development of the area, and in 25 years time this investments will be very helpful for the economy of the country Srilanka.

  34. Daneelo Nugara on August 2, 2015 at 4:17 pm

    Just Take a look at the following article titled

    “Mattala – the magnificent mistake” in the Sunday Times 26th July 2015

  35. Daneelo Nugara on August 2, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    And this one too

    Why Mattala could not take off: Here’s the plane truth –
    http://www.sundaytimes.lk/150628/news/why-mattala-could-not-take-off-heres-the-plane-truth-154888.html

  36. Ken Wilkins on April 21, 2016 at 10:12 am

    We flew in to Hambanatota last year with Sri Lankan Airlines when they were still flying there. I had no knowledge of the politics behind this but as soon as we alighted I noticed that apart from our flight there were no passengers, lots of staff with nothing to do hence it took us an age to get through the checks even though we were on an internal flight! A look at the arrivals board showed our flight was the only one to arrive that day and that there was one, a Fly Dubai one for the next day. We were collected at the airport and drove out, the massive car parks were empty, we turned on to the brand new dual carriageway, again completely empty apart from us and a herd of cows. Going out towards our destination we passed a massive new building again built by Rajapaksa as council offices, when I say massive it went on for about three hundred yards, for an area with 11,000 population? It was a complete joke and I would have seen the funny side had our return flight out not been cancelled by Sri Lankan airlines owing to ‘operational reasons’ (read we were probably the only customers booked on the flight) so had a four hour drive to our next stop. Hambanatota must be the stand out example in Asia of corruption and no one having the balls to stand up to the prime minister. The cost to the environment is also incalcuable with natural habitats being decimated.

  37. Kapila on May 10, 2016 at 4:13 am

    I am also from Sri Lanka. The original article is very correct. Except very few uses this is completely a white elephant. logic behind this was Rajapaksa’s government wanted to show off the pseudo development by building big structures whether useful or not. This is one such example. investing with out checking the possibility of getting profits does not say, Sri Lankans are incapable of such things. Lot of people and economist are here who are good in analyzing.This is the result of satisfying once needs and crazy with out considering experts and scholars ideas. But I think in addition to all mentioned little benefits this could add a world class benefit. politicians in the other parts of the world can take this as an example and think what factors should be there at least to build an air port. In this regard he has built such harbor also. They can easily research on these things and see the impacts before investing. Of course ,if they find interesting these things they can find further more examples conferences hall,cricket stadium,roads with 6 lanes etc.These things can use as examples to others thus this is only a capital loss in one country but it contributes world class capital saving. Try to see the opportunity cost at bottom. i bet this is the only one place that can find all of these investments. So we can sell this concept and educate people or organize tours from colombo air port to show this top class structures and organize symposiums and open discussions on investment strategies or topics like how sustainable investment by getting real world examples.one of conference halls of particular air port can use to organize such events while keeping the biggest one as an example. It will add lot more to Country”s GDP than currently and provide hand on experiences to other political leaders to direct their investment component of their GDPs. So these investments have done by considering other politicians who cannot distinguish where to invest and in what areas(like young ministers) So let’s see the importance. Have you ever thought a possibility of earning income like this? And seen this concept “governments can build big useless structures as examples for others and getting indirect income via education which contributes to avoid Inappropriate investments and save public money in rest of the world” LOL

  38. a citizen interested in the development of the country on May 29, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    as a citizen in srilanka, still I didn’t visit this massive air fort dubbed as a white elephant by the opposition party. the motive behind the leader of then government is not to squander billions of dollers on this massive project m But to develop this on one hand and develop an underdeveloped
    area like HUMBANTHOTA on ther other , which is the home town of the then president. though it seems to be wastage of millions of dollers , in the immediate future , there would be a time when almost all the citizens appreciate it. for it is located in a fine place conducive for the budding tourist industry with 100 tourist hoteles and a natural habitat for flora and fauna. here what is needed is not the complete abandonment of the air port , but device out ways to curtail wastage of money at the air port and devise the ways for the correct propaganda to publicize this among the foreigners who are willing to visit the south. AT the last presidential election, what the present ruling party did was to benefit from the sad situation which the air port was in , to gain votes from the public , fabricating lot of lies. SO, I do say that this is not a white elephant at all. so as the citizens who love the country .looking forward to the true economic development of the country, Let”s develop this .

  39. Praveen Mendis on July 18, 2017 at 11:01 am

    Thanks for sharing..! really interesting and strange to read. The pictures speak the story itself.

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