Maldives inaugurates new intl runway with historic Etihad Airways A380 flight
A newly developed runway at the Maldives’ main airport welcomed its maiden flight on Tuesday, as an Etihad Airways A380 jet made history with the first ever landing of the world’s largest passenger airliner in the island nation.
Piloted by Ali Ahsan, one of the few Maldivian pilots working in an international airline, the A380 jet made a successful landing at the new code-F runway around 4pm after a show flight around Maldives capital Male at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet.
The historic flight was greeted with a water salute, followed by a para-jumping session by the armed forces and a joint airshow by flagship carrier Maldivian and world’s largest seaplane operator Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA).
The A380 from Abu Dhabi was carrying the Maldives national football team, the recently crowned SAFF Suzuki Cup champions.
Prior to landing, the official permission for the A380 to land was granted by President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom who attended a special ceremony to welcome the team, which beat India to become the champions of South Asian football.
The new 3,400 metre by 60 metre runway is funded by a USD 400 million loan from China EXIM Bank, with designing and construction handed over to Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) of China. The runway is built on land reclaimed from the lagoon of the airport island of Hulhule.
The new runway, which can accommodate world’s largest passenger airliner Airbus A380, will begin welcoming scheduled flights later this year.
The new runway is part of a USD800 million mega project to expand and upgrade the Maldives’ main gateway to cater to at least seven million passengers per annum. The project also involves building a brand new passenger terminal, a seaplane terminal and other 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.