It's a sleek international airport built just five years ago at a whopping cost and appears to be straight out of passengers' wildest dreams. So why is it becoming a disaster?

For many travellers it seemed like a scene straight out of their wildest dreams: A sleek, new international airport where you didn't have to queue. At all. Ever.

However, that was because just a single airline operated out of Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport in Sri Lanka, and as a result only a handful of people passed through its terminals per day at the peak of its popularity.

Great for a seamless passenger experience, but not for the airport's bottom line.


Last year, it was estimated the airport received just seven passengers per 24 hour period. It quickly earned the title of the world's "loneliest" airport and was labelled the nation's biggest white elephant.

Ever since it opened in March 2013 — intending to accommodate one million passengers a year — the airport has been running up heavy losses. The area where it's located — Mattala — is close to Hambantona, a small rural area that was meant to become the country's new commercial and transportation hub.

The world's loneliest runway. Photo / Amila Tennakoon
The world's loneliest runway. Photo / Amila Tennakoon

But the dream has not yet come to life. In 2016, the airport handled just 4700 passengers, and that was actually an increase from the pervious year's figure of 2739.

Unfortunately the problems at the $307m airport have continued to get worse. In June, the last flight took off from the airport when Flydubai said bye-bye, abandoning it due to a lack of passengers and expensive bird strikes.

The airport, named after former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was funded with high-interest loans from China. It's been reported the country has been struggling to repay them.