Jaffna International Airport (JIA) was ceremonially opened yesterday (October 17, 2019.) JIA becomes the third international airport in Sri Lanka with the first being the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake and the second being the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA.) This was a long due project. Longstanding Civil War in the North and the East delayed the expansion of the then military airbase, the Palali Airport into an international airport this long. They say it is never too late, don’t they? And one good sign is that the airport was not named after any present or past political leader. Naming it Jaffna International Airport – JIA – promotes the district than a mere yet another stupid politician dead or alive.
JIA might have a better fate than the now ‘almost defunct’ Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) as it is situated in a commercially viable location and also in a strategically important location of the country. Majority of the Tamils in the North prefer to identify themselves with South India or Tamil Nadu for that matter than with Colombo or the rest of the country I guess. Tamils relate to South India socially, culturally, religiously and politically than the South of Sri Lanka. The long run Civil War also contributed to this distancing of the Northern Tamils with the rest of the country. The end of the Civil War helped reduce the misunderstanding between the North and the East for good. Yet for all, it practically cost a lot of money and time for someone in the North to come to Colombo’s Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake. it is very uncomfortable journey for people from the North to travel to the BIA, as the full journey takes 8 hours to complete the 350 kms.
Now that the Alliance Air, an Indian regional airline a wholly owned subsidiary of Air India has agreed to operate 3 flights a week to Chennai, Trichi and Kochi cities from Jaffna, Jaffnites will find it easy to travel to South India and catch a connecting flight to any other destination. Depending on the demand of the number of passengers, there will be more flights from Jaffna to the rest of the world.
At the moment JIA can handle less than 80-passenger flights and with its expansion plans, the runaway will be extended to 1.5 km which will enable bigger planes to land in here. It is said that the Palali Airport has had a 45-minue flights from Palali to Chennai in 1960s and 1970s but the outbreak of the Civil War had forced the Sri Lankan government to discontinue the flights due to security reasons. Let’s hope that everything will be okay and the JIA becomes a commercially successful airport in Sri Lanka.
The JIA has cost the government more than sixteen million USD to complete the phase I of the airport. Phase II and III are also on the cards while there are plans to build a 4th international airport in Batticaloa in the Eastern Sri Lanka. Let’s hope that these new international airports will succeed and help develop the country.