Pic by Pradeep Pathirana
- Becomes the country’s third international airport
by Sandun A Jayasekera reporting from Jaffna
The Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was ceremonially declared open by President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday at Palaly flanked by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga and Indian High commissioner Taranjith Sing Sandhu.
The third International Airport of the country, JIA will operate as a regional airport with the main focus on the Indian sub continent.
The Palaly airport, which was served as the key military air port of the Sri Lanka Air force during the internal conflict has been developed and modernized with the Indian assistance to make it as an International airport.
Addressing the gathering at the ceremony held to mark the opening of the JIA, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the proposal had first been made to build an international airport in Jaffna some 30 years ago but failed to realize it even after the end of the civil war.
“It is quite an achievement of the government to develop the Palaly airport as an international airport not in years but in a few months after the proposal was made to the cabinet in 2018 April and work started in May 2019. We have been able to complete the job in six months. Some even cast doubt on whether we could finish the job successfully in such a short time,” Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
Prime Minister Wickremesinghe said the JIA was slated to be developed in three stages and this was only the first stage to facilitate A 320 air buses. At the completion of the second stage, the JIA will be connected with the Middle East and East Asia attracting hundreds of thousands of tourist to Sri Lanka and giving a big boost to the economy, industry, tourism and other income generating activities to North while creating thousands of job opportunities.
The government also plans to develop and modernize Batticaloa and Koggla airports further strengthening the tourist sector. Tourists will be able to travel directly to the East, South and North using these airports. It will also help to popularize domestic air travel, Mr. Wickremesinghe said.
He paid tribute to India for her constant support to Sri Lanka in many fields and added people in the north had benefitted tremendously from the India – Sri Lanka close friendship.
The government has a range of development programmes for the next five years lined up to enhance family income, create job opportunities, develop health and education and start a number of development projects, he said.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said in a lighter vein that Transport and Civil Aviation Minister Arjuna Ranatunga has done two firsts by giving guidance to construct the JIA. The first was winning the cricket world cup in 1996 and the second was the JIA.
Minister Ranatunga said with the opening of the JIA, flights with 75 – 80 passengers onboard would arrive at the JIA giving a boost to tourism in the North. He said the government intends to introduce a National Aviation Policy shortly and would develop all domestic airports in the country making Sri Lanka a main tourist hub in Asia.
Indian High Commissioner Taranjith Sing Sandhu said the opening of the JIA would further strengthen the India Sri Lana ties and people to people cooperation and coordination.
“India has done much for the people in Sri Lanka. We will continue to participate in the development of Sri Lanka and has already involved in the reconstruction of Sri Lanka’s northern railway line, thousands of houses in the North, development of the Kankasanthurai port and many other development projects,” he emphasized.
The first ever international flight touched down at the JIA when an Alliance Air jet from Chennai touched down with a group Indian tourists during the ceremony.
Pix by Pradeep Pathirana.