Bid to revive Mattala: Free for all airlines
The Government has implemented an open skies policy over the ailing Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA), granting international operators all nine “freedoms of the air”—including the liberty to use it as a base for commercial airline operations.
The new development is expected to be published as a gazette and in the worldwide aeronautical information circular this week. It has already been conveyed to relevant local authorities, Aviation Director General H.M.C. Nimalsiri said.
Meanwhile, SriLankan Airlines, which no longer has commercial operations at the Mattala airport, has given up its ground handling rights there. This allows the airport management freedom to design plans to attract customer airlines.
These decisions were taken at a meeting on Tuesday chaired by Civil Aviation Minister Reginold Cooray and attended by officials from the ministry, the Civil Aviation Authority, Airport and Aviation Services Ltd and SriLankan Airlines. They agreed that, in view of the massive investment already made on the Mattala airport, they should take every possible measure to put the installation to good use. This included removing any barriers or restrictions on local and foreign airlines.
The Government has been saddled with sprawling operational and maintenance costs. It was decided, therefore, that traffic rights would be made freely available to any airline operating into and out of MRIA. Minister Cooray instructed officials to explore avenues for a reputed foreign airline to start passenger and cargo commercial operations using MRIA as a base.
The nine freedoms of the air are (in that order) : The right to fly over a foreign country without landing; the right to refuel or carry out maintenance in a foreign country without embarking or disembarking passengers or cargo; the right to fly from one’s own country to another; the right to fly from another country to one’s own; the right to fly between two foreign countries on a flight originating or ending in one’s own country; the right to fly from a foreign country to another while stopping in one’s own country for non-technical reasons; the right to fly between two foreign countries while not offering flights to one’s own country; the right to fly inside a foreign country, continuing to one’s own country; and the right to fly inside a foreign country without continuing to one’s own country.
Up to last week, only the first to fifth freedoms were allowed for MRIA. In the case of Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA), they are even more limited to protect the business of the national carrier, SriLankan Airlines.
“These freedoms operate in the manner of a route permit,” Mr. Nimalsiri said. “International airlines should now know that, if they want to come to MRIA, they have unbridled access. They can come and start operating out of Mattala.”
“There are certain airlines that have a lot of money but limited opportunities,” he added. “If they think they should come to Sri Lanka and engage in an international operation with a destination they consider useful, they could do so.”
One example of this is Air Asia, a Malaysian airline, using Indonesia as its base. “Mattala now needs more and more airline operations,” Mr. Nimalsiri concluded. “We are exploring the possibility of MRIA getting into the full stream of commercial operations.”