SriLankan eyes Middle East services from new Hambantota airport

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SriLankan Airlines will operate international flights out of the new Hambantota International Airport when it opens, with services to the Gulf and Middle East regions as a strong possibility.

The airline is studying which services it could move from the Sri Lankan capital Colombo's Bandaranaike International Airport, even though it has to ensure that this will meet both domestic demand and offer connections to transit passengers, says Lal Perera, the airline's head of worldwide sales.

Hambantota, which will be able to handle 10 million passengers annually, is meant to be a hub for the country's southeast region. It will be Sri Lanka's second international airport after Bandaranaike International. It is scheduled to begin operations by early next year.

"We have to look very closely at what we can do. Hambantota can serve the domestic market, but it also has potential for transit passengers if we can offer the right connections. Some of these could be services to the Gulf and Middle East for both Sri Lankan and Indian passengers," says Perera.

Domestic services between the two airports are still not the cards as the airline is not convinced that there is sufficient demand, says Perera. However, that could change depending on the passenger traffic at Hambantota, he adds.

"There is a plan to develop more airports in Sri Lanka, but a lot of that will depend on the demand at Hambantota. If there is a lot of traffic, it will show that there is latent demand and then we can think of starting domestic services from there and Colombo to other points in the country," says Perera.