Due to the repairs at Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) earlier this year, Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) had handled a record 48,810 passengers during the first four months of 2017, which was 35 times of the 1,395 passengers it had handled during the corresponding period in 2016, the government data showed.
This was the highest number of passengers handled at the airport since MRIA had handled 16,956 international passengers in 2013 when it was opened and 20,474 international passengers in 2014, during its first full year of operations.
Approximately 6,000 passengers each were handled during 2015 and 2016, when the two budget Middle East airlines FlyDubai and Rotana Jet were the main users of MRIA, after the current government halted operations of state-owned SriLankan and Mihin Air to the airport in 2015 soon after coming into power.
MRIA was used to store a surplus paddy harvest in 2015, generating comic outrage from a wide section of society. It has a capacity to handle one million passengers per year and was constructed at a cost of US $ 209 million, most of which was financed through Chinese borrowings.
The first four months of 2017 saw MRIA handling 623 international flights, up from 320 international flights handled year-on-year (YoY), although this number was not as high compared to 1,170 international flights handled in 2013 and 2,948 handled in 2014.
BIA was closed during the daytime for three months until early April 2017 in order to resurface the runway at a cost of Rs.7.2 billion.
The airport risked becoming blacklisted due to delays in the required resurfacing.
Passengers arriving at and departing from BIA during the first four months of 2017 fell 3 percent YoY to 3.1 million.
Tourist arrivals to Sri Lanka during the period increased 6.1 percent YoY to 765,202 visitors, mainly due to high volumes of arrivals just before and after the repair window. (CW)