Turkish Airlines to operate Maldives cargo service amidst coronavirus passenger flight suspension

Turkish Airlines has announced plans to operate two weekly cargo freighters to the Maldives.

The flagship carrier of Turkey, which had a daily service between Istanbul and Male, suspended its operations to the Maldives on March 23.

Expedite Maldives, the general sales agent for Turkish Airlines, said a Boeing 777–300 with a capacity of 42 tons will operate a cargo service to the Maldives and Sri Lanka from Istanbul on every Tuesday and Friday.

“We believe this is good news for the exporters and importers in Maldives as of now we are with limited airfreight opportunities,” a statement issued by Expedite Maldives read.

“Now, with this operation, Maldivian exporters can resume their export to Europe, USA and Far East. Importers can bring in perishable, medical and other items from Sri Lanka, Dubai, China, Europe, USA and many more.”

Bookings can be made via Expedite Maldives’ hotline, +960 7229595.

Despite the suspension of most of its passenger operations, Turkish Airlines continues to operate cargo services to over 50 destinations around the world.

These cargo services come after Maldives flagship carrier Maldivian launched weekly cargo freighters to several destinations, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and Dubai.

Sri Lanka’s flagship carrier SriLankan Airlines and the country main domestic airline FitsAir have since launched weekly cargo services between Male and Colombo.

Air freight rates are skyrocketing after the grounding of many passenger flights in Asia has left shippers scrambling to book limited spots on cargo planes, as Chinese industrial production restarts.

About half of the air cargo carried worldwide normally flies in the belly of passenger jets rather than in dedicated freighters. But deep flight cuts in response to the coronavirus outbreak have made the market more dependent on freight haulers.

By using jets outfitted to carry people to carry cargo instead, airlines are following the lead of Korean Air and Singapore’s budget carrier Scoot.

All international airlines have suspended their operations to the Maldives, as the island nation enforced a blanket suspension of on-arrival visa in late March in a bid to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Even before the visa suspension, the Maldives had closed its borders to arrivals from some of the worst-hit countries, including mainland China, Italy, Bangladesh, Iran, Spain, the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Visitors from three regions of Germany (Bavaria, North Rhine-Westphalia and Baden-Württemberg), two regions of France (Île-de-France and Grand Est) and two regions of South Korea were also banned from entering the country.

All direct flights to and from China, Italy, South Korea and Iran were also cancelled.

Cruise ships and foreign yachts were also banned from docking at any of the country’s ports.

The coronavirus outbreak has hit the Maldivian economy hard, as travel restrictions and other preventive measures affect the country’s lucrative tourism industry, which contributes the bulk of the island nation’s state revenue and foreign reserves.

Before the pandemic, the government had been bullish about tourism prospects, targeting two million, high-spending holidaymakers this year after last year’s record 1.7 million.

However, tourist arrivals saw a year-over-year decline of 22.8 per cent in the first 10 days of March. Officials say the number of tourist arrivals to the Maldives could drop by half in 2020.

With arrival numbers falling and the visa suspension in effect, several resorts across the Maldives had been closed.

Tourism has been the bedrock of the Maldives’ economic success. The $5 billion-dollar economy grew by 6.7 per cent in 2018 with tourism generating 60 per cent of foreign income.

However, the government is at present projecting a possible 5.7 per cent economic contraction this year — an estimated $778 million hit.

On March 8, Maldives reported its first cases of the novel coronavirus, as two hotel employees tested positive for Covid-19 at a luxury resort in the archipelago.

Seventeen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except four Maldivians who had returned from the United Kingdom — were later identified.

However, 13 out of the 17 have made full recoveries. The four Maldivian patients are being treated at designated quarantine facilities, whilst the other two had been repatriated to their home country of Italy.

The Maldives announced a state of public health emergency on March 12, the first such declaration under a recent public health protection law.

The public health emergency declaration has allowed the government to introduce a series of unprecedented restrictive and social distancing measures, including a partial curfew in capital Male and its suburbs, and a nationwide closing of schools, colleges and universities. Non-essential services and public places in the capital such as gyms, cinemas and parks have also been shut.

Restaurants and cafes in the capital have been asked to stop dine-in service and switch to takeaway and delivery.

A nationwide shutdown of all guesthouses, city hotels and spa facilities located on inhabited islands is also in effect.

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