Direct flights between Malé and Delhi being discussed

The Maldives deputy tourism minister has told Indian media that direct flights between Malé and Delhi will begin soon.

“The national carrier Island Aviation will be shortly operating chartered flights from here to our country. This is being done to provide direct flight service from here to Maldives to attract more tourists,” Hussain Lirar was reported as telling India’s Business Standard.

During a recent state visit to India, Maldives President Abdulla Yameen was said to have discussed the importance of introducing direct air links with Indian leaders.

The Maldives High Commissioner to India Mohamed Nasser, was also reported to have said that a road show would soon be launched in India to showcase future developments in the Maldives largest industry. Chinese arrivals account for around 25 percent of the current market share, compared with India’s 3.3 percent.

Similar roadshows were produced in China in 2012, following the explosion in Chinese tourist arrivals over the past five years.

The head of the Maldives national airline has told local media of plans to introduce direct flight between Malé and Indian capital New Delhi.

Abdul Haris, managing director of Island Aviation, told Haveeru that discussions were ongoing between Maldivian airline and an Indian aviation company. He said that feasibility studies – examining the likely profitability of the route – were underway.

Links between the Indian and Maldivian governments have of late experienced an improvement after rising tensions during the previous administration of Dr Mohamed Waheed.


Israeli airlines will be licensed upon request: Transport Ministry

Israeli airlines are allowed operating licenses for the Maldives upon request, according to an agreement made between the two countries in 1993 and Israel’s membership of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Only a parliament-endorsed resolution can block an airline license, reports Haveeru.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem told local media that the ministry had decided to approve Israeli national carrier, El Al Israel Airlines, after the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit this November.

El Al applied for a license to operate flights to and from the Maldives every Tuesday starting December 13, Haveeru reports.

Earlier, El Al’s subsidiary airline Israeli Sun D’Or International applied to charter flights to the Maldives. Its request was denied by Maldivian authorities after Israeli Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) revoked the airlines’ operating license because it “did not comply with international standards.”


Adhaalath Party will terminate coalition agreement if Israeli airline allowed to operate in Maldives

The Adhaalath Party has said the party has decided to terminate the coalition agreement with the ruling Maldiivan Democratic Parrty (MDP) should the government permit an Israeli airline to operate in the Maldives.

Transport Minister Adil Saleem told Minivan News last Thursday that relevant authorities were currently processing a license for Sun d’Or International Airlines, a subsidiary of Israeli national carrier El Al, with a view to it operating flights to the Maldives.

Saleem 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.

However the Adhaalath Party, which has significant influence in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and is led by State Islamic Minister Sheikh Hussein Rasheed, issued a statement claiming that the majority of Islamic countries had not permitted the Israeli national carrier to operate.

“There are only two Islamic countries that have permitted El Al Airlines to operate: Egypt and Jordan,” the party said in a statement. “The other Islamic countries that allowed El Al Airlines to operate in their countries have withdrawn their permission. And it is to be noted that this Sun d’Or Airlines which is to commence operation in the Maldives is not an airline that any Islamic country so far permitted to operate.”

The party claimed there “were reasons” why out of the 50 Islamic countries, 48 had declined permission for El Al to operate.

“It is because Israel is the biggest enemy of the whole Muslim community, a country that has stolen the holy lands of Muslims, a country that is committing violence against the people of Palestine and as Israeli flights are targets of terrorist organisations, it raises security concerns,” the party said.

The Adhaalath Party added that it “regretted” that the current government had restored diplomatic relations with Israel, “ignoring the feelings of the citizens.”

The Adhaalath Party’s President Sheikh Hussein Rasheed told Minivan News that the decision was an official decision made by the party and that he had no further comment on the matter.

Adil Saleem acknowledged to Minivan News last week that “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.”

He also said that the license process for the operation of Sun d’Or was almost completed and that flights were expected to commence operating in Maldives in October this year.

President of religious NGO Jamiyyathul Salaf, Ahmed Bin Mohamed Ibrahim, meanwhile added that the organisation strongly opposed any move that would strengthens the relationship between Israel and the Maldives.

“It will cause more harm than benefit,’’ said Abdulla. “Damage was caused after diplomatic ties with Israel were restored.”

Abdulla said the education system of the Maldives “was ruined” as co-education was also introduced after ties were restored.

“All these issues were raised at the same time as the government restored diplomatic relations with Israel. Later came these doctors who first attempted to work in the Maldives without permission from the authorities,” he said. “They have already committed violence against Muslims in different areas of the world, so why should we expect any better?”

Visiting Israeli eye surgeons from the ‘Eyes from Zion’ NGO were in November met with protests and the burning of the Israeli flag in Male’s Republic Square. The Islamic Foundation NGO contested at the time that Israeli surgeons “have become notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews around the world.”

Opposition Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP) MP Afrashim Ali claimed that Israelis and other foreign elements that “should not be allowed to enter a 100 percent Muslim country”, and would gain a foothold in the Maldives as a result of handing over management of the Male’ International Airport to Indian infrastructure giant GMR.

“[The airport deal with GMR] will open a big doorway for the people of Israel, who are brutalising Palestinians without any justification, to come to the Maldives and take over,” Afrashim said during the protests.

The debate over allowing Sun d’Or to operate in the Maldives could be moot after the airline’s license was revoked on April 1 by the Israel Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). El Al flights had reportedly been operating charter flights under different airline names – despite using the same aircraft and crew – in an effort to circumvent backlash from ultra-orthodox Israeli groups over its operating flights on the Sabbath and religious holidays. The airline has since stated that it would continue to not run flights on Sabbath days despite the loss of revenue, while Sun d’Or remains a charter brand under the national carrier.

“Sun d’Or operates as a designated carrier to European destinations, and carries out flights for El Al on the Saturdays and holidays. This enabled El Al to keep its 30-year plus status-quo with religious and haredi (ultra-orthodox) passengers by not flying on the Sabbath,” reported business magazine Globes.


Failure to upgrade airport could lead to ICAO blacklist: aviation expert

An aviation expert unconnected with the government or bidding process, and with extensive experience of Male’ International Airport, has told Minivan News on condition of anonymity that the state of arguably the country’s most critical piece of economic infrastructure “is far worse than most people realise” and in “urgent need of major investment”.

“The runway hasn’t been resurfaced for 18 years, and it still has cracks and depressions caused by the 2004 tsunami,” he explained.

“Even now there are spots which need to be cut out and resurfaced,” he said, naming several international carriers that had privately expressed concern to the authorities about minor damage caused to their planes by the state of the runway.

Furthermore, the airport does not meet NX14 standards of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) because of the proximity of buildings to the runway, the source said.

“The last time ICAO did audits they were not satisfied. If the airport is not upgraded, the worse case scenario is that ICAO will blacklist the airport – and that means nobody will land here. I’m not scaremongering, but the airport needs major investment,” he said.

“I don’t think the politicians understand the situation,” he explained. “The runway needs urgent repair and maintenance, and aircraft from places like Germany – that have travelled over 10 hours with 300 passengers on board – are being held above the airport for 14-20 minutes waiting for a parking space. This is especially a problem during the European winter (peak arrivals).”

Private jets were occasionally being diverted to airports such as Trivandrum and Colombo because of a lack of parking space, denying the government a stream of income, he added – “and there’s no standard of parking, it’s like a haystack.”

The “geometry and design of the airport” were fundamental limitations of the current layout, he noted, but both the current and previous governments were financially unable to invest the significant amount of money required to repair and upgrade the facility.

“In 2006 the former government contracted UK company Scott Wilson to draw up a masterplan, with three options costing US$300 million. The government could not find the funding to go ahead with it,” he said.

“We’re at a crossroads – either it gets privatised now, or it never does. It needs urgent and necessary expansion, and the runway needs to be repaired,” the source explained.

“If people do not agree with the airport being privatised like this, they should come to the bargaining table with something better – there are many multi-millionaires in Male’ who could co-operate on this,” he said.

“It’s not about airport revenue – plenty of countries privatise their airports. But in the Maldives the whole economy is completely dependent on incoming tourists, and most of the [financial] benefits are downstream [at resorts]. At the end of the day the country benefits by having a good airport.”

Not in national interest: opposition

Yesterday evening a coalition of opposition parties, including the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party DRP), the People’s Alliance (PA), the Dhivehi Qaumee Party (DQP) and the Jumhooree Party (JP), accused the government of acting outside the national interest over the privatisation of Male’ International Airport, and signed an agreement to try and halt the process “inside or outside parliament” after the government accepted a bid from GMR-KLIA.

This afternoon a planned signing ceremony at the President’s Office in front of assembled media was first postponed and then reschedued for Wednesday, with Chairman of the Privatisation Committee Mahmood Razee claiming that the “documents were still pending.”

Daily newspaper Haveeru reported that the signing was cancelled because of disputes among board members of the incumbent airport operator, Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), over who would sign the document.

The GMR-KLIA bid accepted by the government will involve an upfront payment of US$78 million and one percent of the airport’s profit until 2014, increasing to 10 percent from 2015 to 2035. GMR will also pay 15 percent of fuel trade revenues to the government in the first four years, and 27 percent from 2015 to 2035.

The two other bids – from Turkish TAV Airports Holdings Company/French Airports De Paris and Swiss Flughafen Zurich AG/GVK Airport Developers – involved substantially less upfront sums but 2-3 times the profit sharing over the life of the agreement.

The statement signed by the oppositition parties condemning the government’s decision to give the airport’s management in control of a foreign company, said the decision was “not made with the intention of benefiting the country’s economy” and that they would seek legal advice.

“[The airport] is one of the most valuable assets of the Maldives and it has a direct link to the independence of the state,” the statement said.

Last week DRP Deputy Leader Ibrahim Shareef accused the government of pushing the privatisation deal through without seeking approval from parliament, and said the DRP “will not honour this type of shady deal” if returned to power in 2013.

Razee meanwhile hit back at the opposition’s unspecified allegations of corruption, explaining that the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) had been involved in the privatisation process as a transaction advisor since July 2009, “and would certainly not stand by if conduct was improper.”

“We started this process in December 2008. It was not something we thought up yesterday,” Razee said.

IFC representatives said they would not comment on the matter.