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Indian experts review Palaly Airport amidst Chinese power play   

Sri Lanka's former war ravaged Northern Province has also been entangled in the geo-political power plays between India and China following the involvement of India for further development of the country’s third international airport in Palaly, Jaffna.

A highly acclaimed team of experts of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) will be arriving in the island soon to inquire into ways and means of further improvement at the airport and development activities in the second phase of the project, official sources said.

The project is being implemented under three phases and the first 950 metres of the main runway, already being used for aircraft operations, will be upgraded in the first phase of the project.

Under the second stage the existing runway will be further extended.

Under the third stage of expansion, the runway is to be expanded to 2.3 kilometers in order to handle large passenger aircraft such as Airbus A320 and A321.

Out of the total cost of investment of LKR 2.25 billion, the government was to allocate LKR 1.95 billion while the Indian assistance will provide LKR 300 million, treasury data showed.

The Indian government is scheduled to transfer necessary funds for the second phase in accordance with the MOU signed by the two countries in 2018, a senior official of the Airport and Aviation Services Limited (AASL) revealed.

Seven key areas including the runway expansion at the airport have been identified for further development, he added.

Facilities at the airport such as terminal modification, electricity supplies, utility services and transit facilities are also to be improved under the MOU.

After the Sri Lankan civil war was over in 2009, India has been actively participating in the reconstruction and redevelopment of the Northern Province.

India has expedited its development activities in the island nation following China’s emergence as one of the largest developers of strategic infrastructure in Sri Lanka, an eminent political analyst said.

The Palaly Airport is important geopolitically as it is located in the sensitive Tamil-dominated Northern Province, traditionally closer to India, he pointed out.

Palaly Airport was developed and converted into an international airport while  the landing of inaugural Alliance Air flight from Chennai took place in October17  2019.

Sri Lankan AASL officials said India had shown interest in developing Palaly to have direct flights from Jaffna to the southern Indian cities of Madurai, Tiruchi and Thiruvananthapuram.

It is the fifth international airport in the island after the airports in Colombo, Ratmalana, Batticaloa and Hambantota.

In July 2018, India took control of Sri Lanka’s USD 210 million Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Hambantota while China handled the Hambantota Port.

India has also offered to develop the Kankesanthurai airport also in the North, as well as the Mattala international airport in the South. India’s involvement in airport and sea port development was clearly strategic, eminent political analysts said, adding that India has been trying to build a military base in Sri Lanka since former Prime Minister P. V. Narasimha Rao’s regime in 1991-1986 period. India also has a maritime cooperation pact with Sri Lanka under which they carry out anti-piracy patrolling, he disclosed.

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