Sri Lanka woos aviation industries

AFP-JIJI

Sri Lanka is turning its newest international airport into a tax-free zone to attract aviation-related industries, a top official said.

Talks were under way to set up aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operations at the $209 million Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport, which is located near wildlife sanctuaries in the island’s southeast and scheduled to open Monday, said airport Chairman Prasanna Wickremasuriya.

The facility can accommodate Airbus A-380s, the biggest passenger liner in service, and is part of ambitious plans to turn the district of Hambantota, the home constituency of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, into the new commercial capital of Sri Lanka. The airport can handle 1 million passengers a year.

“We can be a regional hub for aircraft maintenance. Negotiations are on with a big European operator to set up a facility at Mattala,” Wickremasuriya said. “We have huge potential for cargo and tourist traffic as well.”

The airport and its immediate surroundings, about 1,000 hectares, are being designated a tax-free zone for foreign and local investors to set up warehouses, maintenance hangars and other industries, Wickremasuriya said. Work began in 2011 on the Mattala International Airport, but it was later decided to rename it after the president.