Southern Airport

WEERAWILA, Sri Lanka, Nov 19, 2006 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s president Sunday marked his first year in office by launching work on a new international airport to handle the giant Airbus A380 airliner and pledging a major new port. President Mahinda Rajapakse laid the foundation stone for a 125-million-dollar, 4,000-metre (13,200-feet) upgrade to a small airport at Weerawila, which is to become an international terminal by November 2009.

The airport is slated to handle two million passengers a year and will be the second international terminal in the country, where tourism is a mainstay of the economy.

“We are building this second international airport so that A380 planes could land here,” Rajapakse said in a nationally-televised ceremony from Weerawila, 260 kilometres (162 miles) south of Colombo by road.

National carrier SriLankan Airlines is around 40 percent owned by Dubai-based Emirates, which has ordered 45 A380 planes, making it the largest single client for the outsized, European-built long-haul jet.

Weerawila is located within Rajapakse’s home constituency of Hambantota, which he also pledged to make the country’s second major seaport.

Rajapakse said an average of 180 ships pass Hambantota at the s