SriLankan Airlines will use the newly opened airport at Hambantota as a hub for leisure and transfer traffic.
Operations at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport "started pretty well" since 21 March, its chief executive Kapila Chandrasena told Flightglobal Pro in a recent interview.
The airline, scheduled to join Oneworld in the first quarter of 2014, has introduced stops at Mattala on some services to Riyadh, Beijing, Bangkok, Male and Shanghai. Those services currently continue on to Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport.
Flightglobal's FlightMaps Analytics shows that SriLankan operates 49 weekly services from Mattala. The only other carrier serving the airport is low-cost carrier Flydubai, which operates 28 weekly services to Dubai.
Chandrasena says that SriLankan plans to build up its operations at Mattala to facilitate transfer traffic, particularly for passengers moving between China and the Middle East.
SriLankan's main hub at Bandaranaike has been under pressure in recent years, with passenger numbers outstripping the airport's capacity. Although construction of a new terminal is underway, it is not expected to open before 2018.
"We are trying to shift some of the transit traffic from Colombo to Hambantota because we can get a better service there," says Chandrasena.
He adds that given the proximity of Mattala to a number of natural attractions, he expects the airport to grow into a key tourist gateway for the airline.
"With the growth of tourists, we see Hambantota as more the gateway to leisure travel and Colombo more the business hub," says Chandrasena.