Maldives to build bizjet-focused airport in north to boost luxury tourism

Maldives has awarded a project to develop an airport with extensive facilities for private jets in the northern Noonu Atoll, home to some of the most luxurious resorts in the world-famous holiday destination.

The project to develop an airport on the island of Maafaru was awarded to The Sun Siyam Resorts, a local company that operates three resorts in the Maldives including The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi resort in Noonu Atoll. The agreement was signed on Wednesday by tourism minister Moosa Zameer and The Sun Siyam Resorts’ director Ali Mauruf.

Tourism minister Moosa Zameer (L-2) and The Sun Siyam Resorts’ director Ali Mauruf (R-2) sign the agreement to build an airport in Maafaru. PHOTO/ TOURISM MINISTRY

Mauruf told journalists attending a signing ceremony at the tourism ministry in capital Male that the airport would be operational in two years. It would be developed with a 1.8-kilometre runway along with state-of-the-art facilities for private jets, he added.

“Noonu Atoll has some of the most expensive resorts in the Maldives. These ultra luxury properties are chosen by high net worth individuals who often travel in their own jets. This airport will do away with the need for them to transit at the main Velana International Airport and park the jets there,” Mauruf, who also serves as a member of parliament, said.

He also announced that a transit hotel with 50 beds would be built along with the airport in Maafaru. The total project, he said, is estimated to cost USD18 million.

In a statement, tourism ministry said the Maafaru airport would have space and facilities to accommodate six private jets at a time. The public private partnership agreement also allows the company to develop a transit hotel and a separate resort on reclaimed land linked to the airport, it added.

Noonu Atoll is located about 180 kilometres north of capital Male on the southern edge of the Maldives’ northernmost geographical atoll.

Existing high-end resorts in Noonu Atoll include the Velaa Private Island, The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi, Cheval Blanc Randheli,  Zitahli Resort and Spa, and the recently opened Soneva Jani. Several new resorts, including those by international hotel chains, are being developed in the atoll.

A private villa in the luxury Cheval Blanc Randheli resort in Noonu Atoll. PHOTO/ CHEVAL BLANC

Maldives, the most dispersed country on the planet with 1,192 islands spread over roughly 90,000 square kilometres, already has 11 airports, including three international airports. The country’s flagship carrier Maldivian operates flights to all the airports in the country while a private airline flies to a few select airports.

Government has contracted developers to build several new domestic airports across the country, with the latest being a USD57.7 million contract with Malaysia’s Gryphon Energy Corporation to develop airports in five islands; Kulhudhuffushi in northern Haa Dhaal atoll, Funadhoo in northern Shaviyani atoll, Nilandhoo in southern Faafu atoll, and Maavarulu and Fares-Maathoda in southern Gaafu Dhaal atoll.

As the government gears up to launch several new airport development projects across the archipelago, a domestic airport being developed on the island of Kudahuvadhoo in Dhaalu Atoll is set to begin test flights towards the end of this month.

The USD20 million airport, which has been built on 64 hectares of land reclaimed from the lagoon of Kudahuvadhoo, is part of the development of the newly opened Kandima Maldives resort. The resort, which opened last month, is located a 20-minute boat ride away from the airport.

Domestic airports in the atolls will benefit locals who often travel to capital Male as well as boost tourism by reducing the price of domestic travel to resorts in the atolls from the main Velana International Airport. Several resorts, especially those in outer atolls now depend on more expensive seaplane transfers.

Over a million tourists from across the globe visit the Indian Ocean island nation every year to holiday in one of the 120 resorts and 300 plus guesthouses located in all corners of the country. The multi-billion dollar tourism industry, which is the country’s main economic activity, relies heavily on the domestic transport infrastructure, especially air travel.

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