Sri Lanka offers tax-free zone at new airport

Sri Lanka's state minister of defence Ruwan Wijewardene (L) takes part in a press conference in Colombo on April 24, 2019. - A Sri Lankan security dragnet hunting those responsible for horrifying bombings that claimed more than 350 lives has scooped up a further 18 suspects, police said April 24, as pressure mounted on politicians to explain why no one acted on intelligence warnings. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISHARA S. KODIKARA/AFP/Getty Images)

MATTALA, Sri Lanka (AFP) – Sri Lanka is turning its newest international airport opening Monday into a tax-free zone to attract aviation-related industries, a top official said. Mattala was initially planned as an expansion of the small Wirawila military airstrip, but Wickremasuriya said they shifted the location 25 kilometres (16 miles) away to ensure no disruption to local rice farmers. Talks were under way to set up aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul operations at the $209 million airport located near wildlife sanctuaries in the island’s southeast, airport chairman Prasanna Wickremasuriya told AFP.

The airport can accommodate Airbus A-380, the biggest passenger liner in service, and is part of ambitious plans to turn the district of Hambantota, the home constituency of President Mahinda Rajapakse, into the new commercial capital of Sri Lanka.

“We can be a regional hub for aircraft maintenance. Negotiations are on with a big European operator to set up a facility at Mattala,” Wickremasuriya said. “We have huge potential for cargo and tourist traffic as well.”

The airport and its immediate surroundings, about 1,000 hectares (2,471 acres), are being