Rajapaksa vanity airport takes off as Sri Lanka rice hub

ECONOMYNEXT, Sri Lanka’s white-elephant Rajapaksa International Airport was turned into a paddy storage warehouse today in a bid to reduce operational costs of the facility that failed to take off as an airport.

The $210 million Mattala Rajapakse International Airport (MRIA) at his home constituency of Hambantota was used only by Fly Dubai budget carrier which operates five weekly flights.

"A cargo terminal was released to the Paddy Marketing Board to be used as their go down," an airport official. "The first truckload of rice arrived today."

There was initial resistance from a group of 80 employee led by two local UPFA council members who were briefly detained by police for causing obstruction and instigating unrest at the 550-staff airport.

"Only one truck was able to off load rice because the warehouse was dirty and there should be a major clean up," a local police official said by telephone.

He said the abandoned warehouse had been a paradise for pigeons and there was a tonne of bird droppings that had to be cleaned before storing rice.

Sri Lankan Airlines halted flights to MRIA immediately after former president Rajapaksa was defeated. The airline estimates savings of $18 million annually from the stoppage.

Built on a migratory route for birds, the airport has been disastrous for plane-bird collisions.  The Sri Lankan Airbus  which carried out the first test landing at MRIA suffered a bird hit and had its windscreen shattered in mid-air.

President Rajapaksa spent lavishly on huge infrastructure, including a deep sea port, six lane highways, an international conference centre, a cricket stadium and a even a highly expensive dry-zone botanical garden in Hambantota.

The projects ignored feasibility studies and environmental warnings about building in an area home to elephants, leopards and bears. (Colombo/Sept02/2015)

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