SriLankan targets passenger lift from Mattala opening

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SriLankan Airlines chairman Nishantha Wickremasinghe is targeting an additional one million passengers from the opening of Hambantato International airport in Mattala in the south of the country.

Hambantota airport opens the door to a new tourism segment catering for the numerous wildlife attractions in the region.

"Work is in progress and will be completed in the next two months," Wickremasinghe said during a press conference promoting the new airport at the World Travel Market in London on 6 November. "SriLankan Airlines and sister carrier Mihan Lanka will be the first two airlines to operate at the airport."

He says services will begin next summer with flights to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. European destinations will be added next winter. Though he did not specify routes, Wickremasinghe says they will primarily be existing destinations served by Colombo but with a Mattala leg added on. There will also be shuttle flight connecting the two airports.

"It is a new catchment area. This should be complementary as it is a new destination," he says. "What I am looking at is a new segment to come here. This should be the icing on the cake. My aim will be to get one million new passengers from this new segment."

Tourism is central to SriLankan Airlines' growth plans following the end of the country's civil war. The national tourism plan aims for Sri Lanka to grow visitor numbers to 2.5 million by 2016, though Wickremasinghe believes that reaching 3.5 million is not too tall an order. The flag carrier is targeting a 60 per cent share of visitor traffic to the country.

The new Hambantota airport will initially be able to handle one million passengers, growing to capacity of five million under a second phase of development.