Maldives main airport to upgrade apron for A380 jets

The main international airport in Maldives is upgrading its apron to accommodate A380 superjumbo jets.

Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), the state-owned airport operator, said Wednesday that a 35,000sqm space from the Velana International Airport’s existing west apron is being refurbished.

“When completed this will have 2 Code F MARS stands which can accommodate parking spaces for 2 A380 aircraft,” the company said, on Twitter.

When the 70,000sqm west apron opened in 2019, it had three Code E Multiple Aircraft Ramp System (MARS) stands, two dedicated Code E stands and one dedicated Code C stand. It had a combined capacity to accommodate either five wide body aircraft and one narrow body aircraft or two wide body aircraft with seven narrow body aircraft at a time.

MACL is also building another new apron at the eastern side of the airport island. This 60,000 sqm apron will feature four MARS stands, which can accommodate either four wide body aircraft or eight narrow body aircraft at a time.

The apron upgrading is in line with MACL’s plans to bring a newly built runway to operation soon. The 3,400 metre by 60 metre Code F runway can accommodate A380 jets, the world’s largest passenger jet plane.

A USD 800 million mega project has been launched to expand and upgrade the main Velana International Airport. The project involves building a brand new runwayan international passenger terminal and a seaplane terminal as well as 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 in the coming years.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted these plans.

A night time airport closure is in effect at VIA due to the drop in demand.

All international airlines have suspended scheduled 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 13 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.

Eighteen more cases — all foreigners working or staying resorts and liveaboard vessels except five Maldivians who had returned from abroad — were later identified.

A six-case cluster of locals, detected in capital Male on April 15, confirmed community transmission of the coronavirus. Several more clusters have since been identified, bringing the total number of confirmed case in the Maldives to 1,872.

Seven deaths have been reported and 648 have made full recoveries. Five remain in intensive care.

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 stay-at-home orders in capital Male and its suburbs, a ban on inter-island transport and public gatherings across the country, and a nationwide closing of government offices, 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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