Expand civil aviation to the Northern Province

Palaly Airport

Palaly is an important airport for North of Sri Lanka was built during World War II by the British Royal Air Force and the airfield is near Kankesanthurai in northern Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon. A number of RAF squadrons and air-sea rescue units were stationed at the airfield during and immediately after the war. The airfield was abandoned after the war and was taken over by the Department of Civil Aviation.The inaugural flight by Air Ceylon on 10 December 1947 was from Ratmalana Airport to Madras via Kankesanthurai. After independence the airport provided domestic flights to Colombo and international flights to south India. There had been civilian air services to other inland cities in additional to international flights between Palaly and Madras and Tiruchi in South India, before the ethnic conflict turned the airport into a military base.

Jaffna the northern most provincial city in the peninsula that was truncated from the mainland by the civil war is now reconnected by rail and road to Colombo, but the aviation facilities have not returned to normalcy even though the war was brought to finish almost a decade ago. Palaly airfield was inside the declared high security zone was an area of less than 25 square kilometers that had engulfed a large percentage of private land taken over by the security forces during the civil war. Initially due absence of a holistic national plan from the government to develop the regions recovering from a civil war that lasted over three decades, after the war ended in 2009 there were reluctance from the security forces to release for civilian use the airport that was with the Air Force.

Refer to an earlier post on Northern Breeze on delaying the renovation of Palaly airport back for civilian aviation: https://northernbreeze.blog/2016/02/21/upgrade-palaly-airport-without-using-private-land/

Today uneven growth across the regions still exist in the country and worst affected are the war torn regions. A dedicated regional aviation sector is crucial to Jaffna’s and ultimately to northern economy to play a pivotal role to increase tourism and export production sectors to deliver economic prosperity to the region. Further joining the aviation network in the island would connect it to other urban centers in rest of the country and the world that would certainly contribute to a speedy recovery plan of the region. For this regional aviation will provide not only choices for passengers and tourists, but also be used to carry fresh high-quality farm produce and livestock speedily, linking producers to domestic and international markets.

Time is ripe to expand civil aviation to the Northern Province that will make enormous economic contribution to not only the local economy but also to Sri Lanka as a whole. The government should aim to approve aviation as an affordable transportation medium, complementing the various existing traditional transportation facilities by rail and road.  The present government has released much of the private land to the owners and have plans to develop the Palaly airport, as a regional airport and the local aviation authorities are currently looking at the possibility of developing it with state assistance amounting to about Rs.1 billion. There is a need for supporting infrastructure, maintenance and engineering facilities, passenger and freight terminals, and ground handling facilities. As the airport will be needing capable workforce and though initially it is expected that the necessary personnel would be readily drawn from airports in other regions, but a proper plan needs to be put in place to get a local workforce trained to replace them.