India Buys 'World's Emptiest Airport' Adjoining Chinese-Run Hambantota Seaport

© AFP 2022 / Ishara S.KODIKARA(File) A Sri Lankan Budhist monk takes pictures of an unseen Sri Lankan airlines Airbus A-340 which transported President Mahinda Rajapakse who became the first passenger to go through the facility, at the new Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Mattala, in the southeast of the island on March 18, 2013
(File) A Sri Lankan Budhist monk takes pictures of an unseen Sri Lankan airlines Airbus A-340 which transported President Mahinda Rajapakse who became the first passenger to go through the facility, at the new Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Mattala, in the southeast of the island on March 18, 2013 - Sputnik International
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The loss-making airport in Sri Lanka currently has the capacity to handle one million passengers a year but has not been attracting much business. It is expected to handle five million passengers, 50,000 tons of cargo and 6,250 air traffic operations per annum by 2028.

New Delhi (Sputnik) — The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has agreed to bail out Sri Lanka's loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota, which adjoins a port leased to China by the island nation for 99 years.

Sri Lanka's civil aviation minister, Nimal Siripala de Silva, informed the parliament about the decision wherein AAI will form a joint venture with the Sri Lankan airport authority to operate the $210 million facility dubbed as the "world's emptiest airport." The airport was built with Chinese commercial loans attracting high interest.

READ MORE: India-China Rivalry Spills Over in Sri Lankan Airport

"We need to revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss. The final terms of the agreement remain to be worked out," Nimal Siripala de Silva told the Parliament.

In this photograph taken on February 10, 2015, shows a general view of the port facility at Hambantota - Sputnik International
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The airport is part of a larger project funded by China that includes, apart from the airport, a seaport and an international cricket stadium in the small fishing town of Hambantota. The project was started in 2007 after then President Mahinda Rajapaksa invited Beijing to turn it into a new global shipping hub. But the plan got awry as the project was not able to attract much business.

"Only India offered to help us. Now we are in discussion with the Indians for the joint venture," de Silva said.

The aviation minister was responding to an adjournment motion initiated by the opposition that questioned whether the government was taking such a step to please India, which had opposed Sri Lanka's move of leasing out the Hambantota seaport to China.

India Navy's battleship INS Betwa (File) - Sputnik International
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In February this year, India's Ministry of External Affairs had said that India was keeping a constant watch on developments pertaining to India's security and economic interests and that it would take all necessary measures to safeguard it.

"India has taken up with Sri Lanka security issues, including in the regional context. We are hopeful that Sri Lanka will continue to keep in mind India's security concerns and sensitivities," VK Singh, India's minister of state for external affairs, said in the parliament.

READ MORE: India Hands Over One More Fast Off-shore Patrol Vessel to Sri Lanka

Last July, Sri Lanka had signed a 99-year lease for the Hambantota seaport with a Chinese state-run shipping company, China Merchants Port Holdings (CMPort), as it was unable to repay interest on an approximately $1.5 billion Chinese loan. China Merchants Ports Holding Company Ltd. has a majority stake of 85 percent and Sri Lanka Port Authority (SLPA) has the remaining 15 percent stake in Hambantota International Port Group Co. Ltd, which currently operates the port.

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