Changi signs consultancy deal as MACL aims for 9.6 million passengers

Singapore’s Changi Airport International has today signed a deal to provide consultancy services for the renewal and expansion of Malé international airport.

During a ceremony held this morning Maldives Airport Company Ltd (MACL) Managing Director Ibrahim ‘Bandu’ Saleem revealed that the new masterplan envisioned 9.6 million passengers using the airport by 2030.

Saleem questioned why “not much has been done for the development of Malé international airport”, saying that financial arrangements with China’s Exim Bank were in place, with work expected to start early next year.

A previous concession agreement with India’s GMR for the management and operation of the airport was terminated in late 2012, with the company winning its arbitration case against the Government of Maldives in June this year.

Political opposition to the GMR deal focused on nationalist sentiment, and President Abdulla Yameen has emphasised the importance of retaining government control over Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Both Changi CEO Lim Liang Song and Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb spoke today of the strong emotional symbolism of the airport.

“As we know, our airport is very much emotionally attached – it’s not only an airport, but an airport that was built by Maldivian people and it is in their sentiments and it is President Yameen’s vision to develop the airport by the government of Maldives and to keep its operation under the government of Maldives,” said Adeeb.

Song compared this sentiment with Singaporean’s feelings towards Changi International Airport, noting that this would be kept in mind as the group.

“At the end of this, we are the consultants. We will give you best advice on practices on processes – the airport has to be moved by the emotions, the vision, of the government as well as MACL,” he explained.

During today’s signing ceremony, Adeeb discussed the government’s vision for the airport, noting that infrastructure would have to be complemented by enhanced human resources in order to provide an international class facility.

“We look forward to opening a brand new, luxurious, airport where the high end tourists would like to spend their time and have that luxurious feeling – a feeling that they are in an airport in the most beautiful destination in the world.”

Adeeb has previously explained that Changi, which manages Singapore’s multiple award-winning Changi airport, would be hired as consultants as they are better qualified to work with Chinese and Japanese contractors.

Following GMR’s renovations to the current international terminal in 2012 – part of the country’s largest foreign investment deal – the project became overwhelmed by political opposition, leaving the foundations of a new terminal to rust on newly reclaimed land.

After arbitration proceedings found the agreement to have been valid and binding, GMR have recently revealed they are seeking US$803 million for damages and loss of reputation – a figure equivalent to around two thirds of next year’s forecast state revenue.

With the court yet to conclude on the amount owed by the Government of Maldives, GMR were reported to have expressed surprise when a preliminary agreement was signed with Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) to upgrade INIA.

2013 saw over 1.3 million tourists land at INIA – around one third of which were Chinese.

MACL’s Bandu Saleem noted today that the government also had plans to expand regional airports – of which there are currently ten – with plans to develop an airport in Raa Atoll.

Correction: this article previously incorrectly stated MACL had signed an agreement with Changi Airport Group. MACL signed an agreement with Changi Airports International.

Related to this story

Airport development begins, with “no chance” of GMR returning to project

GMR lodges US$803million claim, pleads for award of further damages for loss of reputation

GMR surprised with decision to give airport development to Chinese firm

Agreements on bridge and airport penned during Chinese president’s visit