Questions are being asked why certain SriLankan Airlines flights continue to stop at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) when there are no passengers embarking or disembarking. For instance, a Colombo-bound flight from Kuala Lumpur made a scheduled stop at MRIA on Thursday morning. Writing to the Sunday Times, a passenger on that aircraft said there was “no apparent reason” for the flight to have landed there.
“No one embarked or disembarked at Mattala,” he says, adding that all passengers were booked to Katunayake from Kuala Lumpur. “Was this just to keep the public informed that Mattala is still alive and alert?” he asks. SriLankan Airlines sources said this had been going on for some time. “Sometimes, flights just land and take off at Mattala with nobody getting down,” said one authoritative source, on condition of anonymity. “If there are passengers who do disembark, they usually stay in transit at the airport. It is only on rare occasions that anybody flies to Mattala on account of it being his or her final destination.”
Embarkations are also not numerous but President Mahinda Rajapaksa makes it a point to leave and enter the country through MRIA. “What we see mostly are passengers who are in transit because the airline chooses to route them that way,” said another source. “But this works for the interested parties because they are able to show international flight movements to and from MRIA,” he said. Among the SriLankan flights that go via Mattala are those to Trichy, Bangkok and Male.
“At the same time, SriLankan also operates direct flights to those destinations from Katunayake,” he continued. “This is a clear case of ferrying a passenger from point A to point B via point C without going directly to point B.” The Sunday Times was unable to get a full schedule of arrivals and departures at MRIA. The information published on its official website, www.mria.lk, has not been updated since November 25 last year.
The official website of the Airport and Aviation Services Ltd (AASL) does not carry a flight schedule for MRIA. The three international airlines currently operating to MRIA are SriLankan, Flydubai and Mihin. AASL Chairman Prasanna Wickramasuriya said he was unwell and referred the Sunday Times to MRIA CEO Derrick Karunaratne. Head of Airport Management H.S. Hettiarachchi also asked the Sunday Times to contact Mr. Karunaratne. However, despite several attempts the line was not connected to Mr. Karunaratne.
But SriLankan Airlines yesterday defended its decision to land at Mattala. “We operate to MRIA with multifaceted objectives,” Media Relations Manager Deepal V Perera said. “In terms of our operations to MRIA, we have found that 35-40 per cent of the foreign travellers who visit Sri Lanka travel to the southern and eastern parts of the country.”
“At the moment, the main constraint that they are faced with is that it takes a longer time to travel to these destinations via road,” he explained.
“SriLankan, having identified this factor, decided to enhance travel by air domestically by means of offering special destination packages in promoting MRIA as a gateway to the southern part of the country.”
“Secondly, we are also developing the MRIA as a regular travel destination encouraging visitors to use MRIA as a convenient gateway as it shortens the travel time,” he said. Mr. Perera said there was congestion at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) during peak time. “Besides, we also see an increasing number of transit passengers arriving at BIA. This is causing more congestion at the BIA,” he said. “As a result, we are also experiencing flight delays which are not only causing inconvenience to travellers but also increasing our costs.”
“As a remedy for this we are looking forward to use MRIA as our transit hub, to give our passengers a better travel experience,” he said. “Finally in the future, we will be offering direct destination flights from MRIA on a regular basis with the objective of promoting MRIA as a gateway for Sri Lanka tourism.