The Sri Lankan ports and aviation ministry has decided to shift the location of a controversial new international airport located in the island's south. A ministry statement said that the decision was taken keeping in mind protests from farmers in the original site in Weerawila, in the Hambantota district, as well as other environmental problems.
According to the ports and aviation minister, Chamal Rajapaksa, the airports and aviation services authority has been asked to shift the planned second international airport to a new site in Mattala in the same district.
Plans to build the airport in Weerawila drew protests from farmers as well as environmentalists who said it was too close to the Bundala bird sanctuary on the south coast. The government had already laid the foundation stone for the new airport even before the environmental feasibility study was completed.
The ports and aviation ministry said the decision to shift the site was taken after Rajapaksa met farmers in the area recently.
It may be pertinent to note here that Hambantota, a fast developing city about 300 km south of Colombo is also the political constituency of the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Sri Lankan Govt is also developing a big port city and a huge container terminal station at Hambantota in collaboration with the People's Republic of China and the Port Authority of China.
Chamal Rajapaksa is the brother of president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
There is an urgency to the matter as Sri Lanka has only one international airport at present. It needs a second one under international air safety rules so flights can be diverted in case of emergency.
Currently, aircraft have to carry extra fuel to divert to airports in neighbouring India, or the Maldives, if Sri Lanka's only international airport in Katunayake, north of Colombo, is closed in an emergency. This eventuality has already been tested when flights were diverted last year after Tamil Tiger rebels used a light aircraft to bomb a nearby airbase.
The Sri Lankan government had invited India's Cochin International Airport Ltd (CIAL) to explore the possibility of setting up the greenfield project at Weerawila. A CIAL delegation had even visited the site earlier this year and held talks with concerned officials.