GMR today opened a new Airline Office Complex beneath the International Terminal in a step towards consolidating check-in and security procedures for passengers.
The Civil Court has meanwhile ruled against GMR in a case filed by the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP), challenging its right to collect a US$25 (Rf385.5) Airport Development Charge (ADC) and US$2 (Rf30.8) Insurance Charge commencing January 2012. The DQP had claimed that a pre-existing Airport Service Charge (ASC) of US$18 (Rf277.56) invalidates the ADC. The legal dispute with DQP could cost GMR Infrastructure US$25 million annually, India’s The Economic Times estimated.
The Civil Court today ruled that the clause in the concession agreement with GMR violated the Airport Service Charges Act of 1978, which was amended in 2009 to raise the charge to US$18 for foreign passengers and US$12 for Maldivians above two years of age.
Judge Ali Rasheed Hussein ruled that the Airport Development Charge and insurance charge were service charges “under other names.”
He noted that the Airport Service Charges Act had been amended seven times to raise the charges since 1978 by the legislature, “based on the economic circumstances of the Maldives and the means of the public,” which showed that the purpose of the law was to ensure that enforcement agencies did not have the authority to raise the charges.
President Mohamed Nasheed’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair said the government would likely appeal the lower court’s ruling given its contractual obligation to GMR.
“The government will do everything it can to adhere to the concession agreement,” he said.
GMR has not yet issued a formal response following the Civil Court ruling. However speaking today prior to the ruling, INIA CEO Andrew Harrison told Minivan News that GMR was “delighted to be subject to scrutiny, and will stand up to it.” He said the company was confident in its concession agreement with the government.
Harrison called the allegations and public criticism of GMR “unfair.”
“A lot has been done here,” he said, pointing to the number of renovations completed in the past six months. “I think you can see that locals and tourists are now getting the upgraded facilities befitting an airport like INIA.”
Harrison added that the next six months will see five new food and beverage facilities in international, domestic and land-side areas; a plaza for tourist arrivals; six new air service buses; and the beginning of a new terminal. “Many of these improvements go well beyond the concessionary agreement we have with the government,” said Harrison.
“It’s important to align the airport with passenger expectations, whether their destination is a resort or the warm welcome of a Maldivian home.”
At an event earlier today the company unveiled 30 new airline offices on the first floor next to Immigration.
“The old offices were small and since they were on the first floor rather than the ground floor, they were harder to access for passengers,” noted Harrison.
Airline personnel now have direct access to check-in counters from “some of the best offices in Male'”, situated along a bright white corridor.
The complex hosts four carriers with approximately five airlines per carrier; a few spaces have been left available for additional airline partners, such as Air France and AlItalia, which are expected to begin service to the Maldives in the next few months.
Harrison pointed out that the real reason for building a new complex was to centralise security check-points. Currently, security check points are located at gates one through three, and four through six. Passengers often face a queue, and are consequently more stressed about making their flights, Harrison explained.
“Now, that space is freed for all security check-point equipment to be located right next to Immigration, making passenger traffic smoother and allowing for more time in the airport terminal rather than in queues,” he said.
Harrison added that situating Immigration and Security offices in close proximity was a standard feature of international airports.
GMR is currently overseeing the renovation of INIA, as per a contract with the Maldivian government. In the past six months it has upgraded two lounges and expanded baggage beltways; it is currently adding eight check-in counters and two security lanes. Tourism Minister Maryam Zulfa previously expressed satisfaction with GMR as “an example for the Maldives as it moves forward.”
A groundbreaking ceremony for the new terminal will be held later this month – the structure is due for completion in 2014.
Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) today announced that the lease agreement between GMR and the government allows for a 10-year extension from the initial 25 year time frame, pending the agreement of both parties.
GMR began circulating the Airport Source Quality program survey in October to evaluate INIA’s ranking among 34 airports in the two to five million passenger category. The airport initially ranked 33rd, but Harrison said improvements are visible.
“In December alone it has already moved up three airports. By the time the new airport opens, we are convinced that INIA will be number one in the two to five million [passenger] category,” he said.