Rajapaksa boarded a flight of the national carrier Srilankan Airlines from the Bandaranaike International airport here, and landed at Mattala airport located in the remote part of Hambantota and now named the Mahinda Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA).
The presidential flight was followed by the landing of the first commercial flight, the national carrier’s UL 226 from Dubai.
There were two more landings thereafter, Air Arabia from Sharjah and Fly Dubai from UAE, both budget airlines.
The USD 209 million first phase of the airport began in 2009.
About 1,000 hectares around it are being developed as a free trade zone and warehouses.
“Hambantota is Sri Lanka’s future aviation hub. This will be operated as an aircraft maintenance centre,” Colonel Prasanna Wickremasuriya, the head of the government’s aviation authority said.
Developing Hambantota, one of Sri Lanka’s poorest regions has been the brain child of Rajapaksa.
Already, the district has seen the construction of a modern international cricket stadium, and IT park in addition to the development of the Hambantota port with Chinese assistance.
The Shangri-la resort chain is also currently building a mega hotel project in Hambantota.
Both the airport and the port ventures are funded by Chinese Export-Import Bank.
The airport is expected to handle a million travellers a year.
The airport’s strip is equipped to land the Airbus A380 with its 3500 metre—long and 60 metre—wide runway.
Colombo: Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Monday inaugurated the country's second international airport in his home district of Hambantota, built with Chinese assistance.
First Published: Monday, March 18, 2013, 20:01