Sri Lanka is seeking a joint venture with India to salvage the white-elephant Mattala international airport, a month after the last remaining airline pulled out of the jinxed facility.
Deputy Transport minister Asoka Abeysinghe told parliament Wednesday that the government was in talks with India to create a joint venture to manage the Chinese-funded airport built and named after former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
“We are holding discussions this week on forming a joint venture between the two governments,” the minister told parliament. “We have no intention of selling it.”
His remarks suggested that plans to privatise the airport had failed.
Dubai’s Flydubai ended its daily flight last month to the Mattala airport — a five-hour, 250-kilometre (150-mile) drive from the capital Colombo — which is located inside a wildlife sanctuary.
Built at an initial cost of $210 million, the Chinese-funded airport employs some 550 workers in Rajapakse’s home district. However, it has failed to generate business even to pay its electricity bills.
Several aircraft have hit birds since it opened in 2013 and two years ago the military deployed hundreds of troops to clear deer, wild buffalo and elephants off the sprawling facility.
Even Sri Lankan airlines stopped flying to Mattala in 2015 saying the move saved them $18 million annually.
Mattala, however, remains an emergency alternate landing location for flights heading into Colombo International. Earlier this year the world’s largest aircraft, the Antonov 225, refuelled there.