When visiting Sri Lanka in 2010 to prepare our Australian Cricket Tour of Sri Lanka the following year, I learned of a new International Airport (and cricket stadium) being built in Hambantota. All I thought was losing our mantra of 'only flying into Colombo' with an airport now closer to Galle.
Although the government's Strategic Enterprises Management Agency was against the airport, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who lives in the district, ordered it built with US$190m from China.
There are popular destinations closer to Mattala than Colombo such as Arugam Bay, Yala National Park, Udawalawe, and hill country, yet the intermittent flights didn't attract tourism, and by 2018 any airline that landed every now and then, had taken off and never turned back.
Rolling around on our Four Points Road Trip after our Australian Cricket Tour of Sri Lanka, we visited the white elephant that is Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium, followed by this flop.
Cruising the beautiful (rarely used) airport highway we reached the military check-point into the airport. Mr Shanaka (our guide) and I got out for a chat. It's not that we weren't allowed to go to the airport, the guys with guns didn't know why a bus of Australian Cricket Tourists wanted to. Mr Shanaka talked us in, and we pulled up at the terminal, and collection of curious staff.
Only opening in 2013, it's still very modern with nice signage, artwork reliefs (below), and a convenient bench under the airport sign; perfect for a team photo (above).
Chat amongst the guys was 'why on earth is this here?' More confusing was someone selling tickets for non-passengers to enter the airport to wave off loved or lusted ones, neither of whom we're coming.
I had to go in.
I bought my Rs100 entry, and went to snap pics of what I thought would be an empty terminal. Incredibly, 56 full time staff work here 24/7. There was an almost 'hubbub', along with a manned information counter, Dialog network booth, and an open cafe!
I walked to the security point before the check-in desks, to go through to take a photo and the guard stopped me to ask, 'Where are you going?'
'Dubai, my good man'.
He looked at me, looked at the check-in desks, looked back at me, looked again at the check-in desks, and looked back at me. Twisting his head like a curious pooch, he stated, 'there are no flights today!'
And not for many a year to come!