he runway of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) will be overlaid next year and as a result, the airport will be closed from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m. from January 6 to April 6.
Daily Mirror learned that the current runway, built 30 years ago, has worn out and that the overlaying is now an essential and inevitable modification. International regulatory bodies had recommended the renovation many years ago, but as the BIA functions with a single runway, the renovation delayed. Nevertheless, experts have informed that if the necessary modification does not take place, the airport may even come to a halt.
Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Authority sources told Daily Mirror that there were 25 operators at the moment, while the weekly air traffic movement was around 1150. The temporary closure will affect this air traffic movement as flights have been cancelled and rescheduled. Although the runway closes, airport terminals and other services will be accessible to the public. According to Airport and Aviation services (AASL) officials, only 10% of flights have been cancelled as most flights have been rescheduled. The renovation is expected to cost a staggering 49 million dollars which will be borne by the AASL. They also mentioned that the consultant for the renovation was Netherlands Airport consultant Kathik and New Era Airport designer from China is the contractor who has undertaken the task.
The top management from SriLankan Airlines has expressed concern as 200 flights of the national carrier will be cancelled. Thus, the carrier will incur a revenue loss of 47million dollars. However, Airport officials remain positive of the outcome as they believe the renovation is a must. They pointed out how International Airports such as the ones in Malé and Dubai closed temporarily in recent years to accommodate runway renovations. The temporary closure will affect both national and international carriers. The plan to renovate the runway was announced last year as airlines had to be informed a year ahead.
Aviation Authority sources also told us that it was the prerogative of the airline to decide whether or not to fly to the Mattala International Airport.
"The airport terminals and other facilities will be available. It is mainly the runway that will be closed. Yet, though we close the runway at 8.30 a.m., there will be flights landing before the closure."
“It is necessary that we overlay the runway”
- Parakrama Dissanayake - Additional Director General of CAA
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Additional Director General Parakrama Dissanayake told Daily Mirror that the airport runway had to be overlaid because the existing runway had been built 30 years ago.
“They have a limited lifespan and it has worn out. Now it is necessary that we overlay the runway. Airlines will operate during the three months, but not from 8.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m.,” he said.
When asked if the cancelled flights could not be directed to the Mattala Airport, he said, “the airlines have the full freedom to fly to Mattala. It is their choice. But they have not shown any willingness to do so.” He added that both Sri Lankan and international flights have been affected by the renovation.
"We are cancelling over 200 flights during this period. While we cancel the flights and lose revenue, we cannot change the fixed cost. As we are just entering a recovery period, we get setbacks."
“The closure will affect the company’s restructuring process severely”
- Capt. Suren Ratwatte - CEO of SriLankan Airlines
Responding to queries by journalists at a recent press conference, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of SriLankan Airlines Suren Ratwatte said the closure would affect the company’s restructuring process severely.
“We are cancelling over 200 flights during this period. While we cancel the flights and lose revenue, we cannot change the fixed cost. As we are just entering a recovery period, we get setbacks. It is a huge problem for us and we have communicated this problem extensively with the government which is a shareholder aware of what we face. Unfortunately, it is completely out of our control. It is going to be tough for us,” he said. He added that they did reflect on the option of directing flights to the Mattala Airport, but had found it to be ‘not commercially feasible.’ He further pointed out that their expected revenue loss was around a whopping 47million dollars.
When the Daily Mirror contacted Venura Perera, the newly-appointed President of the Airline Pilots’ Guild,he apologetically noted that he was not in a position to comment on this matter.
“We don’t foresee a significant revenue drop for AASL”
- Senarath Hettiarachchi - Head of Airport Management of AASL
“Only 10% of scheduled flights are being cancelled. The rest will operate. So we don’t foresee a significant revenue drop for AASL or any other entity. Stakeholders will be affected, but it is not as significant and grave as people discuss it to be. When we analyse the finalised flight schedule for this period, we can observe that almost all flights which were supposed to operate during the day time have been rescheduled. They will operate during the night,” Head of the Airport Management of AASL Senarath Hettiarachchi said.
He noted that since no destination had been cancelled, anyone could enter or leave the country through available flights. Elaborating further on the proposed temporary closure, Mr. Hettiarachchi said, “the airport terminals and other facilities will be available. It is mainly the runway that will be closed. Yet, though we close the runway at 8.30 a.m., there will be flights landing before the closure. So the arrival terminal will be busy for three to four hours after the runway closes. Passengers will have to enter the terminal in the evening four to five hours before the runway opens at 4.30 p.m. to board the flight.”
“Just like roads, runways should be renovated too. This renovation is overdue. The International Civil Aviation organisation recommended this renovation years before. But as we are operating with a single runway, we could not do it all these years. However, we have now arrived at a situation where we can no longer delay the renovation. We do periodic maintenance but this renovation is vital at the moment. If not the airport will come to a standstill,” he added.