India would operate Sri Lanka's loss-making Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota, the Civil Aviation Minister has told Parliament here. The joint venture would see India gain a major stake of the airport, he said. The airport is named after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and was a China supported project in his home district. The project was funded through high interest Chinese commercial loans.

The USD 210 million facility, 241km south-east of Colombo, is dubbed the "world's emptiest airport" due to a lack of flights. The only international flight operating from there was halted in May due to recurrent losses and flight safety issues.

Sri Lanka’s Minister of Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, speaking at the adjournment motion moved by the Opposition said, "We need to revive this dying airport which caused a massive loss of rupees 20 billion". 

Opposition legislator Kanaka Herath asked if the Mattala airport adjoining the Hambantota seaport is to be handed over to India to please the super powers India and China. De Silva denied the charge and said that in 2017, the government had invited proposals from interested international investors to run the airport. However, no proposals were received for its maintenance. "Only India offered to help us. Now we are in discussion with the Indians for the joint venture," de Silva said.

The final terms of the agreement, however, remains to be worked out, the minister said.

The airport has the capacity to handle one million passengers a year and is expected to handle five million passengers, 50,000 tonnes of cargo and 6,250 air traffic operations per annum by 2028.

The seaport built in Hambantota, another Rajapaksa pet project, has been leased to China to set off Chinese loans as equity. The Rajapaksa-led Opposition has called the Hambantota seaport deal a sell-out of national assets to China.

With inputs from agencies