BIA: Renovated runway, a boon to tourism

The travel and leisure industry hailed the completion of the resurfacing of the runway of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) as a long-felt need to boost the travel and tourism sector which plays a pivotal role in the economy.

Renovation of the BIA runway commenced in early January this year with a timeline of four months to complete the work. The tourism industry commended the efforts taken by the authorities for completing the task in time enabling the full resumption of flights from this week.

Director General Civil Aviation/CEO, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) H.M.C. Nimalsiri said the runway is the most important infrastructure that is closely linked to the lifeline of any airport as it determines the level of accessibility and capacity of the airport.

In this respect the ability of aircraft to perform safe operations on the runway devoid of any risks is vital. The BIA runway had not undergone major repairs since commissioning in 1986.

Consequently it had developed a series of alligator cracks which had the potential of debris or sizeable parts of runway coming out with high-speed wheel rolling over it during takeoff run and hitting the belly of aircraft or engine creating a major hazard.

In fact, in 2002, an incident of that nature occurred with a corroded cowling of runway centerline which detached from the surface during takeoff run of London bound SriLankan flight and caused a major damage, which had the potential of crashing the plane on-route.

It was during the investigation of that incident, the necessity to resurface the runway was identified and action was initiated. In this respect the runway overlay of the BIA was a task that was long overdue.

On the other hand, the BIA runway was designed and constructed in 1986 for handling of 10,000 movements of B-747 per annum for a period of 20 years. In that measure, even without any deterioration of surface condition and deterioration of friction levels, the runway needed resurfacing long years back as it had exceeded the design lifetime. “In this respect, we are happy that we could complete the runway resurfacing in time.”

When the runway is devoid of any defects and is maintained with a good surface conditions assuring required friction level, the airport has the assurances of flight operations without any disruptions due to safety reasons of the airport. It will help airlines operate on time leading to enhanced efficiency, cost effectiveness and customer satisfaction.

With the resurfacing the BIA runway shoulders have been widened enabling the airport to accommodate New Large Airplanes (NLA) such as Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 aircraft.

Although Sri Lanka had one such runway at MRIA that could accommodate such aircraft, operation of such aircraft on a regular basis to Sri Lanka was not economically viable as there was no suitable nearby alternate runway for it.

With BIA also achieving that capability the two runways at BIA and MRIA could complement each other for such NLA operations which would be helpful more in the future with the increasing demand for air travel.

“Most of the airports are resurfacing their runways periodically and most of the time they undertake such programs with the full closure of the airport so that there won’t be any disturbance to construction work,” Nimalsiri said.

However, travel industry experts were concerned about the loss of revenue and visitors to the country due the runway development project which limited the number of flights to the airport for nearly three months.

“We need to commend the daunting task undertaken to be completed within a short time. It was a challenging task in terms of engineering, operational and safety point of view.

“Therefore it is my view that with the completion of the runway resurfacing of BIA Program successfully and within the defined time period as announced earlier without any major inconvenience to passengers or airport users, Sri Lanka demonstrated its capability of undertaking a challenging tasks with confidence and produce the desire results satisfying the required standards.

We should thank and pay our tribute to all the organizations involved in this exercise for the collective work with superb team spirit,” Nimalsiri said.

Senior Lecturer at NSBM Green University and former DG SLTDA CEO Convention Bureau, Vipula Wanigasekera said it is good news that operations at the BIA have returned to normalcy.

“The airport plays a key role in tourism promotion and we kept our fingers crossed when limited operation began. This is a relief now. We hope the service standards will improve at the airport which is the first point of the country hospitality,” he said.

George Steuarts Group Chairman and Citrus Leisure PLC Director Dilith Jayaweera said it is great news for the leisure industry.

As part of the hospitality industry the Citrus Group is exited about the developments at the BIA which is key to attract visitors to the country.

“We hope that authorities will take steps to expand the airport to meet the higher volumes of tourist traffic to Sri Lanka in the near future. Steps also should be taken to improve house keeping with better facilities and to improve the overall physical apperance of the air port,” he said. 

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