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Walkway to exit at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport

World’s emptiest airport gets even emptier

The only airline still making scheduled flights ceases services, due to persistent bird strikes and elephant intrusions.

Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka was called “the world’s emptiest international airport” by the magazine Forbes. Now it will become even emptier as the only airline still flying there ceases services.

The Dubai-based low-cost carrier flydubai stopped its flights to Mattala this week due to constant bird strikes in the area as well as commercial viability.

The airport – named after the then president who ordered the construction – opened in 2013 in Hambantota, a town surrounded by jungle in the south of Sri Lanka.

“Bird strikes have led to costly repairs, and we have only an average of 13 passengers per flight to Mattala,” an unnamed employee at flydubai’s Colombo office, told TTG Asia.

The airline has endured 21 bird strikes since it started flights to Mattala. Each time it happened, the airline had to fly in an engineer from Colombo, 260 kilometres away, by helicopter. One engine even had to be replaced.

“Mattala doesn’t have proper infrastructure [or] engineers to handle this type of crisis,” the employee added. However, flydubai will continue its four times daily Colombo-Dubai flights. It is also considering returning to Mattala in December – but this depends on the airport installing bird alarms.

Elephants and peppers
Because the access road at Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport is rarely used, pieces of fence protecting it from wild animals have been removed for cattle to use it, according to press reports.

Meanwhile, the malfunctioning lighting makes the road popular for wild elephants to roam at night. The road is also used to dry pepper harvests.

The cargo terminals have sometimes been leased by the Paddy Marketing Board to store the rice harvest – bringing in much-needed additional revenues for the airport.

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