On New Year’s Day 2017, the Maldives’ government changed the name of the country’s main international gateway to Velana International Airport, and, along with the new identity, marked a new trajectory for aviation development. Today, the Velana International Airport is the site of $1 billion worth of investment, making it by far the Maldives’ largest developmental project in history. Adil Moosa, Managing Director of the Maldives Airport Company Limited, tells us how these funds will allow for 7.5 million annual visitors, as well as an improved terminal for what is today the world’s largest seaplane fleet.
What will be the impact of the $1 billion in upgrades now be conducted at the airport?
The airport upgrade is the largest investment project that has ever been undertaken in the Maldives. The $1 billion is comprised of a lot of different projects, including a new Code F runway that can cater A380 aircraft, a new passenger terminal that will boost capacity to 7.5 million passengers, a new fuel farm and a new cargo terminal complex, which is three times the size of the existing facilities. Apart from that, we are developing other facilities, such as a new power complex that is three times bigger than what we currently have; and a new seaplane terminal, which is two times larger than what we currently have. In addition to that, we are also constructing a new VIP complex that will be 6 to 7 times larger.
Can you give us a timeline for the completion of these projects?
The new seaplane terminal is in progress. We’ve recently started doing work for the VIP complex. Everything is in parallel, so we are hoping part of the project will be completed during this year, and the rest of the projects will be completed in 2019 or early 2020, including the passenger terminal, when the Maldives can expect to welcome 7.5 million visitors each year.
Where is funding coming from?
The airside projects are funded by Chinese funding agencies and done with a Chinese contractor. The new passenger terminal’s funds are from Gulf countries and agencies, such as the wealth funds of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Abu Dhabi and OPEC. This is a syndicated fund of $400 million.
How will these massive investments improve how you operate?
Maldives is considered a very high-end destination, and because this is the gateway of the country, we want to make high-end travelers feel like passenger service at the airport is commensurate with what they will experience at their resort. In addition to that, we are also constructing other new buildings to improve services, such as a fire station. Since this is a separate island, we are responsible to provide all the other municipal service utilities here. When we increase investments for the terminals, we must also increase power capacity to run them, so we are increasing our power capacity with a 15 MW generator set. All of this is ongoing. Some of the projects have already been completed, like the new a new airline complex, an engineering building and water supply building. The runway will be completed by the end of this year; the physical work will be completed during this year.
What new services will Velana International Airport offer?
Currently, most of the services we provide are very manual. For example, we use fuel bowsers to fuel aircraft. Once this project is completed, there will be a hydrant system connected to the apron so it will be direct to the airline. This will be more efficient, plus the safety and security is also more comprehensive. Once the new terminal comes up, most of the work will be automated, even aerobridges, which we currently don’t have.
What is MACL’s strategy to develop the seaplane terminal?
Currently, there are two seaplane operators, namely Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA) and National Carrier Maldivian. TMA is the largest seaplane operator in the world with over 50 seaplane aircraft. They now have three terminals, but we have taken the initiative to develop a new comprehensive seaplane facility, which can cater for more islands by becoming a common seaplane terminal. Like any other international or domestic terminal, it will be one terminal serving to many operators. Currently, each individual operator has a separate terminal. In the seaplane terminal we will have a dedicated area for VIP guests. That means there will be a separate area for VIP, even the docking system is also separate for VIP. More than 80 docks will be available under the new seaplane project.
How would you say that the Gulf has helped the Maldives aviation industry and infrastructure?
I think the Gulf countries contributed a lot not only from an airline perspective, even for this airport development. This is not the first time they are engaging for airport development. The last two major developments in this airport were funded by agencies in Saudi, Kuwait, and Abu Dhabi. Those funds have contributed a lot. Emirates is the highest contributor in bringing passengers to Maldives. They have five flights to Male per day. Plus there are other Gulf airlines such as Etihad, Qatar, Saudi Arabian and Fly Dubai.
How would you describe the nature of UAE-Maldivian tourism relations, specifically this year, the 40th anniversary of bilateral relations for the two nations?
The current government has a very close relationship with the Gulf countries, especially the UAE. This government is very much engaged on infrastructure development and other industries with Gulf countries. That’s one reason we are seeing Gulf aircraft increasing this season. Even Emirates has put additional aircraft to service us from last November. Even for other projects like Hulhumalé development, Gulf funding agencies are very much contributing. I would say with this cooperation, with the existing government, in the future, we will see more investment from Gulf countries and this will be a great benefit to the whole country.