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Ex-president’s vanity airport is used to store rice

3 September 2015 03:30 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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AFP: Part of a vanity airport built by toppled Sri Lankan strongman Mahinda Rajapakse will be used as a rice storage warehouse to reduce losses after failing to take off, officials said yesterday.

Rajapakse International Airport, located in the remote farming outpost of Hambantota 250 kilometres (180 miles) from Colombo, has been shunned by airlines after setting planes on a collision course with migrating birds.

The 550-employee airport in the ex-president’s constituency has become a highlight on a “Rajapakse white elephant tour” run by local guides.

It operates at a huge loss and is used only by one airline, low-cost carrier flydubai, with just a handful of passengers arriving each week.

The near-empty airport has provided a surprise boon to rice farmers, however, after a bumper harvest left them short of shortage space.

“A cargo terminal was released to the (state-run rice buyer) Paddy Marketing Board to store the rice harvest from the Hambantota region,” said an airport official who asked not to be named.

“The first truckload of rice arrived today and has already unloaded at the empty cargo terminal.”

Police said the inaugural delivery was met with unrest as dozens of airport employees loyal to Rajapakse protested against the rice storage plan.
“They should be happy that at least trucks are landing there to make the airport viable,” a senior police officer told AFP.

Built on a migratory route for birds, the airport soon proved notorious for plane-bird collisions after opening in 2013. The first flight to land shattered its windshield after being struck.

National carrier SriLankan Airlines was under orders from Rajapakse to land at the US $ 210 million hub. But it halted flights immediately after Rajapakse lost January’s presidential election to Maithripala Sirisena.

Rajapakse spent lavishly on infrastructure, with huge vanity projects including a deep sea port, six-lane highways, an international conference centre, a cricket stadium and a dry-zone botanical garden.

The projects were criticised for ignoring feasibility studies and environmental warnings.

 
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