By: Shifneen Rasheed & Daha Shuaib

Regardless of the ups and down in the economy, the aviation sector managed to achieve several developmental targets in the year 2016. The Velana International Airport (VIA) development project stands to be of utmost importance. The airport development project kick started in the beginning of the year with the announcement of a new passenger terminal by the Saudi Bin Ladin Group. The project is estimated to cost around USD300.0 million and has already been awarded to the Saudi group. All funds for the development of the new terminal has been secured and announced. These include Saudi Fund’s grant of USD100.0 million, USD50.0 million by the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, USD50.0 million loaned by OPEC fund for International Development and USD40.0 million loaned by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD). VIA’s new terminal is a part of the government’s USD800.0 million project to develop and expand the airport. The new terminal is expected to cater for seven million passengers annually. The mandatory survey and tests conducted before the physical commencement of the project has also begun while the design for the new terminal is nearly complete. After unveiling the new terminal, the current international terminal will be converted into a domestic terminal. VIA has also begun to expand the departure area and the domestic terminal. With the development of the new terminal, prospects for a number of employment opportunities have been foreseen. The Maldives Airports Company Limited expects to create more than thousand vacancies, paving the way for economic growth of the country.

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The VIA Development Project also includes a new runway. The land reclamation of the new runway is in progress and is assigned to the Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) of China. The new code F runway is projected to be wider, longer and capable of landing an A380 airplane. The reclamation of the new runway is to be completed by February 2017 while the whole project is targeted to complete by the end of 2018.

Playing a key role in the promotion of the tourism sector, VIA envisions improving all the areas of the airport. Maldives is home to the largest seaplane network in the world, and the largest seaplane fleet, owned by Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA). The airport is also the seaplane base for the national airline, Maldivian. A well-developed airport is always an attraction for new tourists. With that notion, VIA has also decided to develop the seaplane terminal and the concept design has already been completed.

Moreover, a seaplane base has been established at the Gan International Airport in Addu city. The base was set up by TMA. This is an important decision for the aviation industry as the Srilankan airlines has already commenced direct flights from Colombo to Gan International Airport in 2016. International flights to and from Gan has enabled the citizens of the South to travel abroad without having to commute to VIA. This is considered a gateway to achieve a higher rate of tourist arrivals. Hence a sea plane base in the region would definitely be favorable to the tourism sector of the country. Furthermore, with the new expanded runway in Addu City Gan International Airport, it is also capable of landing bigger airplanes and the prospects for more international flights to land in the airport seems promising. With this achievement, the foreign exchange market is also expected to perform better and provide spillover benefits to the economy.

On the other side, local aviation giant Mega Maldives Airlines started flights to new destinations that include Delhi and Colombo. The airline hopes to start flights to Mumbai and Bangladesh in the near future as well. Prior to this decision, there were no direct flights to some of these destinations. The local airline flew at a record rate of USD98 return fare for its inaugural flight to the Indian capital while the flights to Colombo are also considerably more affordable. Moreover, the second local airline, “Maldivian”, also started flights to Chengdu, China in July 2016. With Gan Airport now open to international flights, “Maldivian” is planning to commence scheduled trips to Gan from other domestic airports in the South.

Airport development projects has been one of the governments priorities in 2016 and has turned out to be a decisive year for the sector with the initiation of many new ventures and projects that are expected to be accomplished in the near future.

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