The delays in the development of Velana International Airport

As we are now approaching the end of August 2022 with VIA development still remaining stuck at the stage it was in 2016.

Source: Times of addu

Source: Times of addu

While the Maldives has grown to become one of the world's top tourist destinations, one aspect of the Maldivian tourism industry appears to be stuck in time. With all of the new tourists coming in and the numbers increasing by the year, hotels and resorts have grasped new concepts to keep the visitors interested; however, even though all other aspects of the industry appear to have developed in line with the rest of the world, the Maldives' main international airport appears to have not been developed since its construction in order to cater to the Maldives' growing industry.

While ‘Hulhule Airport’, was initially built on 19th October 1960, and the international terminal was built after the tourism industry was introduced to the Maldives in the late 1970s and a need for a bigger and improved airport was needed. In its early days, VIA was making progress as an international airport alongside other international airports with the introduction of technically developed establishments such as building a dedicated departure terminal with its prior adjoining later and the establishment of a state of Air traffic control Tower.

However, as time passed and the Maldives' tourism industry continued to thrive, the airport fell behind other international airports. Any traveller can see this, especially when compared to other international airports. The airport's size and architectural aesthetics are two of the first indicators of a lack of development. Travelling from VIA can be a nightmare due to its size constraints, especially during the holiday season.

What it's like to travel from the airport during the holiday season

It is a traveller's worst nightmare to have to stand in an extremely crowded airport where a smooth check-in process is nearly impossible. Missing a flight is a stressful thing to think about when there are crowds of people pushing to get through to check in or to run to the immigration line that they are already late for. Due to this being such a common occurrence during the holiday season, in the past, VIA has made announcements to their passengers to do an early check-in. 

However, even getting into the lines for an early check-in process is ineffective. While the majority of international airports now offer self-service check-in, where passengers can weigh and tag their own luggage, purchase a seat, select a meal, and complete the rest of the check-in process on their own, this service is still not available at the Velana International Airport. If you've ever been to the airport or simply walked through the international passenger area, you'll notice people in long lines waiting for staff to assist them with their check-in. Everything from baggage handling to every other process must be handled by the few staff on duty.

While self-service check-in counters can help speed up the process, increasing the overall size of the airport can also help. With so many people congregating in one area for a variety of flights, it's easy to get lost in the crowd, especially if you're a first-time traveller unfamiliar with the airport's layout. For those who suffer from severe flying anxiety, this can be one of the worst situations to be in, as the lines appear to go on forever.

With the lines for a check-in already that long, the lines for food and drinks do not help. While the international airport has a wide variety of international dining options, the lack of these options in the domestic airports forces everyone to congregate in one location for all of their food and beverage needs. It's difficult to imagine an overcrowded eating area, especially when trying to serve both domestic and international passengers at the airport. If you are running late at the airport on a busy day, your chances of getting a seat to eat are almost nil.

Last but not least, the overall appearance of the airport. While international airports around the world strive to make their interiors more appealing in order to make travellers more comfortable, VIA falls short in this area as well. With the good old metal chair seating and nothing else to look at, this airport in one of the most beautiful destinations in the world can be described in one word: bland.

So why has the airport not been developed even with the ever-increasing inflow of tourists in the Maldives?

The root cause of all the problems faced by the Maldivian airport is the lack of development. While the talks about developing the airport are more up-to-date, these talks have been ongoing for over a decade.

Back in 2016 one of the biggest development targets for the airport was officially signed — the VIA development project signed between the Government of the Maldives and Saudi Bin Ladin Group (SBG).

The overall development project totalling USD 800 million was signed with the aim of constructing a new passenger terminal as well as facilitating the expansion of the airport to cater to seven million passengers annually and the mandatory survey and tests were conducted before the physical commencement of the project had begun in 2016. The plans also included the current international terminal being converted into a part of the domestic terminal, and the construction of a new code F runway which is projected to be wider, longer and capable of landing an A380 aero plane.

However, these plans only appear to have remained after the planning stage was completed as we are now approaching the end of August 2022 with VIA development still remaining stuck at the stage it was in 2016. 

Almost nearing the end of two different presidential terms and six years into the talks of these developments, Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) has finally acquired a USD 25 million Letter of Credit (LC) through the Bank of Maldives (BML) in order to speed up the purchase of the materials needed for construction of the new terminal. 

“Due to the delay in payment, we took the LC in order to make timely payments and bring in materials. This is not a loan. MACL is providing a payment guarantee to the contractor after taking LC services.”

While the airport's entire development project was originally scheduled to be completed in 2018, hopefully, with this LC being taken with a guarantee from the government, construction work at the airport can finally begin. With major delays in this project causing people to lose faith that the development will ever take place, the majority are surely hoping that these promises finally come to fruition as the development in the airport would not only ease the struggles of those who travel from the airport but may also contribute to the Maldives' tourism sector flourishing further.

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