Sri Lanka on Thursday said India will operate the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota as part of a joint venture that gives New Delhi a majority stake in the deal. Sri Lanka’s Civil Aviation Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva told Parliament that the agreement’s details have not been chalked out yet.
The airport, estimated to be worth $210 million (Rs 447 crore), has been dubbed the world’s emptiest airport and is running up heavy losses. “We need to revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss of LKR 20 billion [Rs 866 crore],” Silva said.
Opposition legislator Kanaka Herath asked the government if it was trying to appease India and China by giving them control of the country’s ports and airports. Sri Lanka handed over control of the Hambantota seaport to China on a 99-year lease in December in a bid to offset its loans. Silva refuted Herath’s allegation and said the government had invited proposals from international investors in 2016. “Only India offered to help us,” he added.
The Mattala airport, named after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was funded using high-interest commercial loans from China. The airport began operations in 2013, and the only international flight operating from the facility was terminated in May because of major losses.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also refuted a New York Times report that claimed the government was forced to handover the Hambantota Port to China as it was struggling to pay debts incurred by the previous regime, Daily Mirror reported.
The prime minister said his government would soon be relieved from the burden of running Mattala Airport. “It will also become a profit-making venture in the future,” Wikremesinghe added.