Colombo, Oct 17 (IANS): Sri Lanka’s third international airport, the Jaffna International Airport (JIA), was declared open on Thursday, with an Alliance Air flight with Indian dignitaries landing from Chennai to mark the historic occasion.
Sri Lanka President Maithripala Sirisena inaugurated the Jaffna International Airport, at a function during which Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was also present.
The ATR72-600 short-haul flight was operated by Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Air India. This is Alliance Air’s first international flight.
Sri Lanka Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Arjuna Ranatunga, several other Ministers and Members of Parliament, Governor, Northern Province, Suren Raghavan, Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu, CMD, Air India, Ashwani Lohani, CEO, Alliance Air, C.S. Subbiah, Consul General of India in Jaffna, S. Balachandran, members of the Tri-Forces of Sri Lanka, several officials from the Government of Sri Lanka and Government of India participated in the inaugural event, a statement from the Indian High Commission said.
The Indian High Commissioner, in his address, said that “bilateral relations between India and Sri Lanka have now truly touched the sky!”
He said the inaugural flight was “yet another example of India’s commitment to continue with people-oriented development projects in Sri Lanka”.
“It was also a reflection of the shared commitment to further strengthen people-to-people ties between India and Sri Lanka, which lies at the heart of the bilateral relationship,” he said.
Sandhu recalled the words of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who during his visit to Sri Lanka in 2015, had said that, “The future I dream for India is also a future that I want for our neighbours”.
Alliance Air is to operate seven flights a week from Chennai to Palaly and Batticaloa in Sri Lanka with its ATR 72-600 airplanes.
The airport, situated 20 km from Jaffna City, has been equipped with a 2.3 km long runway.
Sri Lanka’s first international airport is the Bandaranaike International Airport while the second was constructed with Chinese funding in Mattala.
The new airport will enable the people in the North to travel to South India without having to go to the main international airport in Katunayake. It is also hoped to commence flights from Jaffna to Maldives and Malaysia in the future, said Minister Ranatunga on Wednesday, while inspecting the airport.
Daily flight operations are scheduled to begin in November.
The former military airport at Palaly has been upgraded at a cost of Rs. 2.25 billion, out of which Rs. 1.95 billion was borne by the Sri Lankan government and Rs. 300 million were aid from the Government of India.
The Indian government earlier extended grant assistance for the rehabilitation of runway and basic infrastructure at the Palaly Airfield under an MoU concluded in November 2005. Both sides have been working towards operationalization of regional commercial passenger flights from Jaffna.
The recent expansion of the airport along with setting up of ancillary facilities has been done by Government of Sri Lanka.