Improving Sri Lanka’s airport experience

Mar 05, 2012 (LBO) – With some difficulty, given high hotel prices and uncertainty around visas, we organized a regional workshop that drew participants from as far as Canada and South Africa. The electronic visa facility was greatly appreciated by the attendees.

They found the airport experience satisfactory. First impressions were good.
We should be happy. But we do not recommend complacency. In this region and in these times, one must run to avoid being overtaken.

Out of rank

Our airport handled 5.3 million passengers in 2010. The numbers would have been even higher in 2011.

We are in the category of airports handling between five and fifteen million passengers a year. How does Colombo compare with the region’s airports in this category?

According to the Airports Council International the best airport in the category that Colombo belongs to is Nagoya in Japan. Hyderabad, a direct competitor in South Asia, comes in third. In 2010, Hyderabad was the best for its size worldwide, followed by Nagoya and Indianapolis.

World Airport Awards 2011, another entity that assesses airport quality, places Bangalore’s airport ahead of Hyderabad, and both ahead of New Delhi.

Where is Colombo?

The easy answer is that we were not evaluated. The easy response is to ask why not. Two of Colombo’s direct competitors, Bangalore and Hyderabad, are making much out of their high rankings. Colombo is not even in the fray.

Bangalore and Hyderabad are public private partnerships. The private companies that manage the airports care about international rankings, partly because higher rankings can be converted to higher earnings and possibly because the management contracts require good performance in airport rankings.

Now is the time

An expansion of the Colombo airport is to be financed by the Government of Japan. Instead of just spending money, why not use this opportunity to set in place a more efficient management structure as our competitors are doing across the water? Two decades ago, when the Airport and Aviation Company was established, Sri Lanka was a trend setter. The airport was the best in the region.

We’re still not too bad. If we were subject to assessment, we will not come in the top three, but we will not be too far down the rankings. But our objective must be to get to, and stay in, the top three for airports our size.

With the highway connection to the airport finally looking like it will get finished, we stand a very good chance. Despite the process being less than ideal, the online visa facility settled at a reasonable price point and minimizes transaction costs. The superfluous disembarkation card has been eliminated for incoming Sri Lankans. One hopes it will soon be eliminated for all who carry machine-readable passports (i.e., everyone).

If we take the next step and establish a new management structure with the correct incentives to keep ahead of regional competitors, we can regain our rightful place at the head of the rankings in the region.

This is how Sri Lanka will become an aviation hub.