Transport officials have confirmed that a subsidiary of Israel’s flagship airline El Al is in the process of starting services to the Maldives later this year, despite some fervent anti-Israel sentiment in the country and recent administrative difficulties between the flight operator and its parent company.
Transport Minister Adil Saleem told Minivan News that relevant authorities were currently processing a license for Sun d’Or International Airlines to begin operating to the Maldives after talks began last year. He claimed such a move would create opportunities for both Israeli tourists to visit the country as well as facilitate pilgrimages for Maldivians to mosques around Jerusalem and other parts of the country.
Sun D’Or International, which is wholly owned by Israeli transport group El Al, was reported to have ceased operations from April 1 this year after the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) ruled that it relied on its parent company to administer and provide infrastructure to its operations – a situation it deemed “unsatisfactory”.
In a report for the Reuters news agency, despite reservations raised by the CAA on the manner the company was being run, the Israeli Transport Ministry claimed that the aircraft, maintained by El Al , were “completely safe” and any reservations about Sun D’Or International’s operations related solely to “administrative issues”. The report quoted ministry officials as saying that El Al could continue to use the Sun D’Or brand name commercially, but could not continue to operate the airline as an independent company.
A spokesperson for El Al was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of press, but Adil Saleem claimed that to his knowledge, negotiations to begin services to the Maldives had not been affected so far by the Israeli CAA’s decision.
“I am not presently on top of the latest developments [with the company], but I believe we have almost completed the licence process for the services, which are expected to begin in October.
In recent months, the Maldives has seen a number of protests against Israel and its foreign policy along with claims by one former opposition party leader that the privatisation of Male’ International Airport would allow for Israeli bombers to go out of their way to refuel in the Maldives on their way to attack its neighbours in the Middle East. Saleem said he had taken such controversies on board.
“The [transport] department has gone through their procedures that it goes through with any airline planning to operate to the Maldives. As Transport Minister I have looked at this like with any other airline,” he said. “Some Maldivians see Israel as controversial over the issue of Palestine. Yet Palestine accepts Israel as a state, benchmarking the point that I don’t see why we should not allow these flights.”
Saleem said that the Maldives already played host to a number of Israeli tourists at its resorts and that the airline would allow for a greater influx of guests to the country’s tourism industry.
The Transport Minister added that it had also become fashionable for some Muslims to travel to ancient mosques in Medina and Jerusalem, with the deal potentially allowing for local companies to provide pilgrimages to these sites.