Piloted by Maldivian, Qatar Airways begins South Asia’s first A350 service to Maldives

Qatar Airways has become the first airline to deploy an A350 jet to a South Asian country, as the advanced jetliner’s maiden flight to the Maldives, piloted by a veteran Maldivian captain, landed in the island nation’s main airport on Tuesday.

Top officials of state-owned airport operator Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) welcomed captain Tolhath ‘Tholla’ Anwar and his crew as well as the passengers onboard the jet, which landed at the Velana International Airport at 3pm.

“This is a huge boost to our tourism industry. No other South Asian country has A350 operations,” a top official of MACL told local daily Mihaaru.

Qatar Airways will use a 280 seater A350 jet for twice daily flights to and from the Maldives until March 31, 2018.

Positioned to compete with the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the A350 entered service in 2015 with Qatar Airways as the launch customer. As the first Airbus aircraft with both fuselage and wing structures made primarily of carbon-fibre-reinforced polymer, the A350 offers more space with wider seats and features state-of-the-art technology.

Qatar Airways is popular amongst travellers from Europe who often transit in Doha before flying to the Maldives.

The capacity increase by Qatar Airways follows announcements by several international airlines to increase flight frequency to the island nation ahead of the upcoming peak tourist season.

Air France will begin scheduled operations to the Maldives on November 2, followed by Indian budget carrier GoAir on December 1.

Air France will be offering two weekly flights to the Maldives main Velana International Airport on departure from Paris-Charles de Gaulle.

Air France flights will be operated by Boeing 777-200 equipped with the latest Air France travel cabins, and with a capacity of 312 seats including 28 in Business, 24 in Premium Economy and 260 in Economy. Flights operate on Wednesdays and Saturdays on departure from Paris and on Thursdays and Sundays on departure from Male.

GoAir will fly from Mumbai using an 180 seater Airbus A-320 aircraft.

Italy’s flagship carrier Alitalia, which earlier had charter services, will also begin direct flights to the Maldives from Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport on Wednesday. The new three-weekly Rome-Male service will operate for the whole winter season until March 24, 2018.

Hainan Airlines, which flies to the Maldives from the Chinese Shenzhen city, will from December 27 begin operating two flights a week, while Beijing Capital Airlines will from October 29 shift to a daily service from four times a week service.

From October 29, Emirates has also increased its fight frequency from four to five a day.

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.

From October 30, Malaysia-based low-cost airline AirAsia has also added four flights per week to its existing daily service. It will be followed by an increase in January 2018 to nine flights per week from a four times weekly service by SilkAir, the regional wing of Singapore Airlines.

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

December to April is considered the peak tourist season, as these months constitute summers in Maldives. Between December and April, the islands boast of dry weather, making it ideal for tourists to travel and enjoy the tropical environment.

Resorts across the archipelago organise special activities for the festive season, which falls during the peak tourist season. Popular resorts such as Baros MaldivesAmilla Fushi and Finolhu MaldivesSoneva FushiThe St. Regis Maldives Vommuli Resort and Mirihi Island Resort have already announced their festive programmes for this year.

After years of double-digit growth in tourism, the Maldives has over the recent years observed a slowdown in growth. Tourist arrivals have crossed the one million milestone and is on course to reach 1.5 million by the end of this year, but the country has been struggling to create demand amidst a significant increase in bed capacity.

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