ROUTES: Sri Lanka's Hambantota to ease Colombo congestion in 2013

Abu Dhabi
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Sri Lanka's second international hub is scheduled to begin commercial operations in early 2013, helping to ease the congestion at the capital Colombo as it serves the country's southern and eastern regions.

The new Hambantota International Airport in Mattala in southeast Sri Lanka will initially have a capacity to handle 1 million passengers a year. The second stage of its development will begin in 2013, increasing its capacity to 6 million by 2018.

Domestic airlines SriLankan and Mihin Lanka have announced that they will begin international operations out of Hambantota, as have Air Arabia and FlyDubai. Talks are underway with Qatar Airways and Emirates as well, says Kaushali Munasinghe, head of marketing at Airport and Aviation Services Sri Lanka, the airport operator.

"Almost 30% of the population that is working abroad is from Sri Lanka's southern and eastern regions, and Hambantota will be a better hub for them than Colombo. Tourist numbers are also increasing and many of them are heading to our natural attractions in those regions, which are becoming increasingly popular," she adds.

The expansion of Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport, which handled more than its annual capacity of 6 million last year, is scheduled to begin by the end of 2012. A new terminal that can handle 6 million passengers should be ready by the end of 2018, says Munasinghe.

A passenger terminal is also being built at an air force base in Batticaloa, where the runway is also being extended to allow narrowbody operations to serve passengers in the country's east. The Sri Lankan government has also said that it plans to develop another eight airports throughout the country.