Sri Lanka has decided to fully liberalize a white-elephant airport, an unusual act in this network industry which is riddled with protections for national flag carriers. Taking a respite from the Constitutional matters that preoccupy most Sri Lankans these days, I shared some ideas on the prospects for the fully liberalized airport with a journalist. These thoughts are more fully fleshed out in an op-ed that will appear shortly.
Airlines are usually drawn to airports which give fifth freedoms, or the right to pick up passengers on the way to a third destinations, which is restricted by many countries to give a privilege to – usually – a badly run state-run domestic carrier.
“Fifth freedom rights are valuable where there is are passengers to pick up,” explains Rohan Samarajiva of LirneAsia, a regional think tank based in Colombo.
“Mattala is not near a population base.”
Samarajiva who has been advocating the use of the airport as a regional base for freight says airlines could still be drawn to the airport if costs were attractive enough and there was a window to also open up fresh regional opportunities.
At the moment fuel is trucked to Mattala from Colombo, which automatically push costs up. To bring costs down costs, fuel has to be hauled from nearby Hambantota port where storage has already been built, preferably through a planned pipeline.