Born out of a vision to provide tourists with a more efficient and comfortable experience, FLYME entered the Maldivian market as the first private operator in 2011. Backed by the powerful Villa Group of companies and providing service to its own resorts, FLYME claimed its rightful place in the Maldivian skies, which are getting more crowded by the day.
How does FLYME fit into the growing Maldivian aviation sector?
FLYME emerged as a response to the growing need within the resort sector. As resorts started sprouting across the nation moving away from the Malé atoll, air connectivity became a considerable challenge. In the late 90s the national airline did not serve most of the areas where five-star resorts were opening and that forced visitors to endure very long trips and uncomfortable trips by speed boat to reach their destination. There were no domestic airports developed at that time near the resorts. The only option was to introduce seaplanes, which is extremely expensive due to the corrosive environment. With that in mind, the Villa group, one of the biggest indigenous resort operators in the Maldives, which was struggling to provide comfortable air transfer experience at an affordable price to the resorts, decided to establish its own private airline in 2011. The company established its own airport Maamigil, today called the Villa Airport Maamigil. This was the first privately developed airport in the Maldives and provided a new level of reliability and comfort for tourists with day and night transfer to resorts in the South Ari Atoll. Until 2016, it was the most active domestic airport in country and remains the second most active today. Initially we operated four flights a day and progressively expanded to fourteen flights a day to Maamigil airport and to multiple destinations, now exceeding 32 flights daily. Our portfolio now includes 85 different resorts/hotels that we serve across the Maldives. FLYME fulfilled a vacuum in the market not only for Villa Group’s resorts, but for many others.
Seaplane trips are a trademark of a visit to the Maldives. Can the ATR’s compete?
It is true that seaplanes provide visitors with a unique experience, but they are both expensive and unpractical, as they normally make several stops along the way, making trips unnecessarily lengthy. Our service with ATR aircrafts is two to three times cheaper than a seaplane ride, and more efficient. Our vision is that seaplanes can provide recreational trips for tourists, but they are not ideal for mobility with considerable volume. However, it’s a very unique experience in the Maldives for a holidaymaker. That is why we will also be starting a seaplane service once the new seaplane terminal is completed at the Velana airport in August 2019. We want to provide seaplane trips for passenger transfers and also for photo flight experiences. This way we can complement the full range of options for travelers to experience. Nevertheless, most of the repeat visitors opt to take an ATR rather than a seaplane.
Maldivian airways recently slashed its domestic fares. How does this decision impact you?
The impact is limited, as the two companies operate different routes, but it is there. The decision to lower tariffs was a governmental promise and one we had expected. It is a way to address the needs of the population. The Maldives continues to work on a system where there is a different fare for tourists and for locals. I do not think this is a very sustainable system. There should be a single plane tariff for everyone, and alternative solutions to subsidize for Maldivians. If we promote volume and efficiencies, fares will naturally drop. We could learn from the UDAN government program deployed in India, which has financial sustainability as well as affordability as drivers to enhance air travel coverage and make it accessible to all.
How do you perceive the entrance of a new player in the aviation sector, Manta Air?
Healthy competition is positive. Before FLYME, Maldivian airways dominated the domestic flights market and TMA the seaplane market. With more competition, the service and the fares will improve for clients, so the market at large will benefit. FLYME has a very well-established market and very streamlined operations, so we are comfortable with a more crowded plainfield. In fact, we are expanding our fleet with one new aircraft scheduled for delivery in October, and two more in 2020. We have also been studying the possibility of opening up the company to international routes, which could considerably change the current landscape of the sector.