Few weeks ago I visited Sri Lanka with my family and two guests from Malaysia. Damintha, my brother-in-law was there to pick us. We started around 5 pm and reached his home in Attidiya around 8.30 pm. May be it was an evening with little unusual traffic, yet, not extraordinary.
Our guests, the two Muslim ladies, on fasting, were almost exhausted by the time we reached the apartment that we have rented. The time we spent in crossing Colombo City was almost the same as the flying time from Kuala Lumpur to Katunayake.
On our way, there were many things to be gossiped, meeting the kith and kin after few months. The topics changed from Kusal Perera's batting to ugly politics and at one stage was about mega projects of the past regime.
"Mattala airport was built without drawing out any clear business road map" I gave my opinion.
"Ohh, that scrap, it ended up in utter waste of national wealth" added by my father in law.
"mmmh, yes, or may be not" I thought to myself. At least not "ended up".
Isn't there any way out?
Few projects around the world came to my mind, in the countries where I have stepped in, which were considered as utter failures at one stage. Wise people, later on, turned them into multi-million profit generators.
Why was it failed? This is a question that no one asked, rather than looking for a grave to bury the responsibility of failure.
As I see there were two major reasons behind the apparent failure of the project.
Mattala seems a far remote place: being in the middle of a jungle in the far down south, the airport seems beyond the civilized world for many people, even those in Matara and Tangalle as per their views.
Any reason to go to Mattala?: Nobody will volunteer to travel to a spot in the middle of Sahara dessert and stay there for few days, even if you provide him free transportation. Similarly neither local nor foreign travelers will see any reason to be there at Mattala, although the surrounding is a fascinating jungle with lush green and natures beauty.
There is a very viable solution for the first drawback.
From many parts of the country, there is not much difference in time to travel to BIA and Mattala; even for a passenger from Kaluthara. However, while there are airport service at Rs. 3000 - 5000 from Kaluthara to BIA, most vehicle owners charge Rs. 20,000 - 30,000 for a trip from Kaluthara to Mattala in a similar vehicle.
Even for those who use their own vehicle, travelling from Matara to Katunayake seems quite alright but not from Matara to Mattala. This is actually a psychological illusion rather than a physical reality.
The solution is to have Airport Check-in Centers in several major cities of the country. It is an airport without tarmac. For an example one such center can be established in Kandy. People may check-in at the center to flights that take off from both Katunayake and Mattala airports.
Thus, for a person in Matale does not need to travel all the way to Katunayake or Mattala by his own. He can check-in at Kandy airport check-in center. Then he will be transported to either Katunayake or Mattala by a luxury coach. All checked in luggage comes in a caravan-type luggage carrier attached to the bus and the passenger has no access to that after he checked-in the luggage at the center (very similar to normal air-port check-in and taking a flight to a transit airport).
The transportation fee should be added to the air-ticket price. A passenger will not feel paying extra Rs. 1000-3000 when he is buying a ticket worth Rs. 80,000. The ticket should be issued as from the check-in center to the destination (eg. Kandy/SL to Tokyo/Japan). Similarly, for the in-bound flights too, the procedure should be implemented.
Very soon the travelers will feel that they take internal flights to travel to their final destination. Possible places for such centers at the beginning are Kaluthara, Matara Kurunegala, Kandy, Ratnapura, Badulla, Baticaloa, Vavuniya and Jaffna. On the success of the plan, the number of Centers could be increased. As the passenger demand increases, real airports could be developed at some Centers.
The coaches should be equipped with amenities usually available in a plane. The coaches should start and end only inside the security zone of an airport or airport check-in center. A smart computer program is needed to schedule the coach departure times to optimize the operational effectiveness.
This plan will greatly reduce the unnecessary congestion outside BIA that we observe at present.
The second drawback could be overcome by establishing a super-smart hotel complex close to the airport with some unique features; theme parks, safari hub, meditation center, Ayurveda hospital, mega-mall, auditorium complex, golf course, live-library.... and later on may be an international university as well.
Let's stop that complaining culture and get, set, ready to run towards that dreamland, which, can really be made a reality.