Sri Lanka Airports

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Airports are the gateway to any country. Since the beginning of Aviation and travel by Air, the World has been much easier to reach. As a country, if you want to promote tourism, the Airport is a must. Sri Lanka over the years has become a tourist hotspot due to its diverse nature and aviation played a pivotal role in that. Let’s take a look at the history and the present of air travel in Sri Lanka

Birth of Aviation in Ceylon

It was in 1930 that Civil Aviation took birth with the opening of the Aerodrome in Rathmalana. During World War II, under the British, Ceylon took giant strides in aviation. But it was in 1947 when Ceylon’s first Airline under the name of “Air Ceylon” established. The first-ever flight took off from Colombo to Madras via Jaffna. Through the years, Air Ceylon operated domestic flights and flights to neighbouring countries.

In 1979, Air Lanka established, and with it the expansion in many more destinations around the world. Later, all international operations shifted to the new airport, which has built-in Katunayake. Air Lanka changed into Sri Lankan Airlines, and in 1998, for the first time in Sri Lankan Aviation history, the national carrier privatized under a ten-year management contract with the Emirates Group which ended in 2008. However, this tenure empowered Sri Lankan, which now has grown into a highly recognized global carrier.

Bandaranayake International Airport (BIA)

The construction began in 1964 and completed in 1967. It has funded by the Japanese government, who contacted it to Taisei-Mitsubishi Joint Venture. The expansions took place in 1987 through 2000, where the runaway, aprons, and the taxiway built.
In 2013, next phase of construction started with passengers terminals (arrivals and departure), a new apron, aircrafts stands, taxiways, boarding gates, renovations and the extension of the railway up to the cargo village.

The airport was upgraded with the inclusion of one passenger terminal and extra three cargo terminals.Cargo terminal one includes airline offices, customs, warehouses, banks, freight forwarders and courier services. Cargo terminal two is for frozen cargo and it also includes a sort out center for air mails.


BIA consists of one runaway, and it runs through 91 meters. It proposed to be expanded to accommodate A380 Landings, but it is yet to be completed.
BIA has had their dark days. Back in 2001, on the July 24th, Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) attacked the airport and destroyed 8 military aircraft and two airbus aircraft.

Colombo International Airport, Rathmalana

This is the first-ever airport built in Sri Lanka. The opening of the Colombo Airport was held on 28th February 1938 which was graced by Governor Sir Andrew Caldecott. He launched the Air Mail service between Colombo and Mumbai. It started its construction is 1934, and in 1935 Tyndale Bisco, Chief Flying Instructor of the Madras Flying Club made the first landing on a De Havilland Puss Moth in the 600 yar long runaway.

In 1947, Ceylon Airways started its operations at the Colombo airport using 3 DC-3 Aircraft. However, after moving all operations to BIA, The Colombo Airport has turned in to Training hub for pilots and Domestic Flight hub in Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksha International Airport, Mattala

The state-of-the-art Airport opened in 2013 under the Leadership of former President Mahinda Rajapaksha. The Airport was a part of a huge plan on turning around the rural area of Hambanthota to an Industrial hub where investors can come and invest. The construction funded by The government of China, and is planned to be done in two phases.

Runaway, Apron, Terminals(cargo and passenger), Taxiway and the basic airport facilities were included in Phase one. The hangar, a parallel taxiway and cargo apron parking stand were included in Phase two. However, phase two halted due to change of power from the Former President and Things have no gone according to plan so far.

Unfortunately, the Mattala airport named the emptiest airport in the world by the Forbes Magazine and operations has completely stopped at the airport.

Jaffna International Airport

The airport originally built by the Royal air force during the time of World War II. It has used by the British during the war, but after the war has over it was abandoned. It started to function yet again when Air Ceylon commenced their international flights in 1947. The inaugural flight conducted from Rathmalana to Madra via Jaffna.
In 1982, this turned into an AirField Unit of the Air Force. During the 30 years of the civil war, the airport remained a stronghold for the forces. In 2019, once again it has given international status with flights operation from Jaffna to India.

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