Maldives seeks Emirates, SilkAir flight increase

Maldives has announced talks with Emirates and SilkAir to increase the number of flights to the Indian Ocean island destination.

The negotiations were announced in an interview with state run Public Service Media (PSM) by Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) Managing Director Adil Moosa. He, however, did not give additional details.

Dubai-based Emirates began its service to the Maldives in May 1987 using a single Boeing 727 aircraft. It now operates four times daily service to the Maldives from Dubai, with transit routes, including neighbouring Sri Lanka, and uses Boeing 777-300s for its Male operations.

Emirates has become a major airline operating to the Maldives and has been serving for years as a preferred airline of tourists visiting the island nation from far corners of the world, especially Europe.

Europe is the single biggest source market for the Maldives tourism industry with a share of over 50 percent of total arrivals. According to official figures, the European marked observed an year on year increase of 10.7 percent in the first half of this year, with arrivals increasing to 320,162 from 289,234.

Middle East has also become an emerging source market for the Maldives. The market has, however, observed major declines in the first half of the year, with the latest being a nine percent drop in visitor numbers in July. Almost all major Middle Eastern markets posted declines in July, including Saudi Arabia (down 1.6 percent), Qatar (down 93.7 percent) and Egypt (down 23.9 percent).

Singapore-based SilkAir began its operations to the Maldives in 2015. The four times weekly service operated by the regional wing of Singapore Airlines depart out of Singapore on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays with same day return flights from Male.

SilkAir’s operations complement Singapore Airlines’ daily flights to the Maldives. Together, SilkAir and Singapore Airlines currently offer a total of twice daily services between Singapore and Male.

Singapore Airlines and SilkAir are favoured by travellers coming to the Maldives from Southeast Asia, which has continued its positive growth trend throughout the year. Countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand has posted strong gains — 1.9 percent, 29.4 percent, 16.6 percent and 18.1 percent respectively — during the first seven months of the year compared to the same period of last year.

Photo: Business Times

Talks with Emirates and SilkAir come as several international airlines gear up for the commencement of operations to the Maldives.

Italy’s flagship carrier Alitalia will start its first ever scheduled direct flights between Italy and the Maldives in October. During the same month, Indian low-cost carrier GoAir will also begin direct flights to the Maldives.

Air France announced late last year that it would begin operating direct flights to the Maldives in November. The airline said it would be offering two weekly flights to the Maldives main Velana International Airport on departure from Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

Chinese low-cost carrier Lucky Air is set to begin flight operations to the Maldives in January 2018.

Meanwhile, MACL has announced talks with Bahrain’s Gulf Air to begin its operations to the Maldives.

Plans to improve air connectivity between the Maldives and its major source markets come in light of a USD800 million mega project to expand and upgrade the country’s main airport to cater to at least seven million passengers per annum.

The project involves building a brand new runway, which is expected to be operational by mid-2018, a passenger terminal, a seaplane terminal and support facilities, including a fuel farm that can store 45 million litres and a 120,000 tonne cargo facility.

The airport is a key infrastructure that supports the Maldives multi-billion dollar tourism industry. Expansion of the airport is expected to boost tourist arrivals to the island nation as it aims to attract at least two million tourists by 2020.

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