Shanghai Airlines starts direct flights to INIA

Shanghai Airlines, a subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines, has started direct flights from Shanghai to Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

According to a statement released by Maldives Airports Company the B767 aircraft which has capacity for 200 passengers is scheduled to fly three times weekly until the end of the winter season.

With the Chinese tourist market the fastest growing in the world, Chinese travellers now make up 30 percent of all visitors to the Maldives.

MACL reported that the Shangahi Airlines had in previous years flown to the Maldives for this period, but only on a schedule of two flights per week.

While British Airways has decided to suspend summer flights to the Maldives, German national carrier Lufthansa is to start scheduled flights to the country from December 2015.


British Airways stops summer flights to the Maldives

British Airways (BA) has decided to suspend summer flights to the Maldives, as well as cancelling flights to Colombo, Sri Lanka, the Telegraph reports.

“British Airways will continue flying between London Gatwick and Malé. However, the service will be operational only during the winter… to cater to the high leisure travel demand.” a BA spokesman is reported to have said.

The airline has assured all customers affected that a full refund will be issued and has apologised for any inconvenience caused as a result of the changes in flight schedules.

BA began three scheduled flights between Ibrahim Nasir International Airport ( (INIA) and Gatwick London Airport in 2009.

Meanwhile, airport officials last week announced that German airline Lufthansa is to start scheduled flights to INIA from next December, while the national carrier Maldivian airlines’ new A321 is due to arrive in the country next week.

Source: Telegraph


Oil leak from Singapore Airlines flight disrupts airport operations

The runway at the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was shut down for an hour and half last night following an oil leak from a Singapore Airlines flight.

According to online news outlet CNM, the Singapore Airlines flight SQ451 encountered a hydraulic problem during landing, causing oil to spill on the runway.

Passengers were evacuated after the plane was moved to one end of the runway. The incident reportedly disrupted airport operations last night.


Government pays GMR US$ 4 million in arbitration fees

The Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) has paid US$4 million to Indian infrastructure giant GMR as compensation for legal costs of arbitration proceedings in Singapore.

Following an 18-month arbitration process, a Singapore tribunal ruled last month that a concession agreement with the GMR-led consortium to manage and develop the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) was “valid and binding” and held the government and MACL “jointly and severally liable in damages” for losses caused by the premature termination of the contract in December 2012.

The Singapore Court of Appeal ordered the Maldivian government and the 100 percent government-owned airports company to pay GMR US$4 million within 42 days for the cost of arbitration proceedings.

Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Sun Online last week that the US$4 million was paid out of the MACL’s revenues and not the state budget.


GMR is only owed reimbursement, not compensation, says AG

Indian infrastructure giant GMR is only owed reimbursement for expenses, not compensation for the abrupt termination of the concession agreement to develop Malé International Airport (INIA), Attorney General Mohamed Anil has said.

Clarifying President Abdulla Yameen’s previous statement that GMR is owed a payment, Anil said the government believes the company is only owed reimbursement for a US$ 78 million upfront concession fee and any other expenses.

“When the agreement was first signed, US$78 million was given to the Maldivian government. In addition to that, we can see that they have spent some amount. So in the worst case scenario, if we are to revert to the state before the agreement was signed, everyone believes that they are owed [what they spent]. That is not as compensation for losses caused by the cancellation of the agreement,” he said.

GMR has said it will stick to a US$ 1.4 billion compensation claim – an amount that exceeds the annual state budget.

“The forceful takeover of the airport by Maldives government amounts to repudiation of a valid contract and therefore damages, including loss of future profit has to paid,” the company said in a statement on April 26.

Anil said GMR’s claim is unclear, as the company had not submitted documents detailing the assertion.

In response, GMR’s legal team member Uz. Fayyaz Ismail told Minivan News details of how GMR arrived at the figure will only be revealed in the second part of the arbitration process.

The arbitration tribunal in August 2013 had acceded to GMR’s request to split the proceedings in two – firstly determining liability, before quantifying the amount of compensation to be paid separately.

“GMR is claiming it to be a wrongful termination, and if the tribunal awards a verdict for that during the first part of this bifurcation arbitration [two part arbitration process] only then would the [compensation] amount be decided through second part of the arbitration. We are very confident the rightful compensation would be received,” Ismail said, adding that the figure may be subject to minor variations.

Yameen in early April said the Maldives government will not be able to pay GMR’s claim, but conceded “some sort of financial compensation must be paid.” He estimates the figure to be a “manageable” US$ 300 million.

The GMR in consortium with Malaysia Airports (MAHB) narrowly won the International Finance Corporation (IFC)-managed bid for the airport in 2010, and signed the agreement with MACL under the former government of Mohamed Nasheed. The opposition at the time, including Yameen’s Progressive Party of the Maldives (PPM), then began a vitriolic nationalist campaign to evict GMR.

Following Nasheed’s ouster in 2012, President Mohamed Waheed’s administration terminated the agreement claiming it was ‘void ab initio’- invalid from the outset.

When the Singaporean High Court’s injunction blocking the Maldivian government from voiding the agreement was overturned by the Supreme Court in Singapore in June 2013, GMR initiated an arbitration process.

The first part of the arbitration took place in Singapore from April 10 – 16. Minivan News understands the arbitration tribunal considered GMR’s claim of wrongful termination, parallel claim for loss of profits over the lifespan of the agreement, and the Maldive’s counter-claim for restitution.

A verdict is expected soon, at the latest by mid- June. Depending on the verdict, the second process of arbitration will begin on a mutually agreed upon date.

Although Anil said the second half could take months to begin or even year for a ruling, Ismail has refuted the claim.

Despite the pending arbitration decision, expansion and development of INIA was among the five mega-projects for which the government was seeking investors at the Maldives Investment Forum held in Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands in late April.

Meanwhile, Nasheed has warned of a sovereign debt crisis if the Maldives is forced to pay the full US$ 1.4 billion and reiterated his Maldivian Democratic Party’s (MDP) call to reverse the decision to cancel the contract.

In a press release last week, Nasheed insisted that international best practices were followed in the bidding process – which was overseen by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – while the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has since ruled out corruption in the airport deal.

“The Maldives is now known around the world as a country that doesn’t keep its promises or honour the contracts. The airport fiasco will hit each and every Maldivian because banks won’t lend money and companies won’t invest in our country without demanding much higher rates of interest,” Nasheed said.

“By now, Maldivians should have been looking forward to a world-class, new airport, to rival Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Hong Kong. Instead we have nothing but an abandoned building site. The actions of President [Abdulla] Yameen and [Dr Mohamed] Waheed have caused this crisis and Maldivians will be paying for their recklessness for decades to come” he added.


Four passengers detained for threatening to hijack plane

Four passengers who were to board a flight operated by local airline operator Flyme have been detained by the Aviation Security Command (AVC) for allegedly threatening to hijack the plane.

According to local media reports, the incident occurred last Saturday evening around 7:00pm at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) while passengers were boarding Flyme’s scheduled flight from INIA to Laamu Atoll Kadhdhoo domestic airport.

A police media official confirmed to Minivan News that such a case was investigated but said that the police had not made any arrests regarding the matter.

“The Aviation Security Command did not mention the issue was of serious concern. There is no reason to detain them and investigate. So we did not arrest them,” the official told Minivan News.

Flyme is an airline operated under resort tycoon-turned-politician Gasim Ibrahim’s Villa Group which  began its operations on October 1, 2011, with the opening of Gasim’s and the Maldives’ first private airport in Alif Dhaal atoll Maamigili Island.

The Head of Aviation Security Command Colonel Mohamed Ziyad told local newspaper Haveeru that the four passengers had given out a false threat in a bid to express their frustration over the delay in boarding the passengers to the flight.

“[Regardless of accuracy of such threats] we are obliged to take action. That is because, as per aviation regulations no passenger or any one for that matter, can make such threatening remarks. If anyone gives such an alarm, we have to take action. That person would not be allowed to board the flight and will be handed over to police,” Colonel Ziyad was quoted on Haveeru.

“We are at the moment trying to compile their statements. After that we will hand them over to police.”

However, an official from Flyme told local media outlet Sun Online that the four passengers had threatened to hijack the flight.

“While the passengers were boarding the flight, some individuals threatened the officials about hijacking the plane. So due to those threats we had to hand them over to the police,” the official told Sun Online.

He added that the incident had now been resolved although the flight had been delayed for about 45 minutes due to the incident.

Minivan News tried contacting Flyme’s media official Ahmed Shareef and Head of Aviation Security Command Colonel Mohamed Ziyad, but were not responding to calls at time of press.


Government targets public share sale in airport operator MACL over next seven days

The government has announced its intention to begin publicly selling shares in the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) – the current operator of Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA).

Although the country’s Finance Ministry today told Minivan News that no timeline had been finalised for the sale owing to “legal process”, the President’s Office confirmed the state had planned to begin offering shares to the public within the next seven days.

India-based newspaper ‘The Hindu’ has meanwhile quoted an unnamed government source as claiming the administration of President Dr Mohamed Waheed was expected to hold most of the shares in the state-owned company on the back of such a sale.

The share sale has been announced despite arbitration hearings pending in Singapore into a US$1.4 billion compensation claim filed by India-based GMR, after a 25 year agreement to develop and manage a new terminal at INIA was declared void by the current government in November 2012.

The government maintains the decision to terminate the World Bank-approved GMR tender was made over allegations of corruption, claims ultimately rejected by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) this year.

President Waheed’s administration last November gave the foreign investors seven days to hand over the unfinished airport to the government-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), which later sought to transfer the assets to a newly-created, state-owned entity called Male’ International Airport Limited (MIAL).

The government later abandoned its intentions towards such a transfer by June this year, on the basis that the “the termination of the contract between the government of Maldives and GMR [is] currently in the arbitration stage.”

With the transfer cancelled, Finance Minister Abdulla Jihad told Minivan News today that the cabinet had approved plans to sell shares in MACL to members of the public, although no date had yet been agreed to begin such a sale.

“There is a legal process we have to follow. We are working on the time frame,” he added.

Jihad request that all other questions over the legal implications of the share sale amidst ongoing arbitration should be directed to the office of Attorney General (AG) Azima Shukoor.

President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad said he too was aware the government was looking to sell shares over the “coming week”, but said any further queries should be forwarded AG Shukoor or other members of special committee charged with overseeing the airport’s development.

AG Shukoor and Deputy AG Ahmed Usham were not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

Meanwhile, Maldives Airports Corporation Limited (MACL) CEO Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem requested Minivan News contact the Ministry of Finance regarding all information on the MACL share sale.

Asset concerns

In May this year, a global body representing the world’s airports, issued a notice advising its members to exercise caution before making any investments relating to INIA, over concerns of the government’s intention of transferring MACL’s assets to MIAL.

In an email obtained by Minivan News dated May 8, Airports Council International (ACI) advised: “due diligence while considering any investment in the Maldives, considering the latest developments, uncertainty of outcome of elections, the legal and financial risks of the current arbitration and the nascent legal framework.”


MACL denies imminent strike action by air traffic controllers, as staff allege pay and safety concerns

Air traffic controllers in the Maldives say they are building up to a full work stoppage over ongoing grievances and safety concerns left unaddressed by the current government.

Such strikes could lead to delays and disruption of flights to the luxury tourism destination, that welcomes almost one million tourists a year.

Several controllers responsible for organising the strike explained to Minivan News that they have been raising safety concerns with all relevant government authorities following the restructuring of the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). Despite countless promises, no action had been taken, they said.

“For the last six months we’ve been ‘going by the book’, following all the procedures which causes a lot of delays. In the aviation industry that is considered a mild strike,” the air traffic controllers explained.

The air traffic controllers are now “building towards a full strike”, and many are even now calling in sick to work, the sources said.

A full strike would involve notifying all the relevant regional and international agencies, airlines, and all relevant government agencies in the Maldives, because no planes will be able to land except for hospital and humanitarian aircraft.

“This strike affects everyone, sea planes as well. Whatever happens at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) will cause delays at the domestic airports as well,” they added.

Six air traffic controllers should be on duty at all times, three in the control tower and three in area control, the sources said.

“Last night only two people showed up to work,” they confirmed.

“The [MACL] management and Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF) had to run the system last night,” the air traffic controllers claimed. “Management is totally stressed.”

“This morning only one person was working area control, so management has had to fill in and today at 1:00pm nobody one went into work,” the controllers stated.

As a result, MACL management is also trying to close the area control centre and combine all operations in the control tower, the sources said.

“A pilot from a domestic carrier called me today to say he’s hesitant to fly because the guy currently in the tower doesn’t know what he’s doing – it’s a big safety issue,” one of the controllers alleged.

Ground staff at Kaadedhdhoo domestic airport in Gaaf Dhaal Atoll told Minivan News that since strike activity began many domestic flights had been delayed “three or four hours” while a number of international flights coming into Male’ “have been diverted to Colombo”.

CEO of the Maldives Airports Corporation Limited (MACL), Ibrahim ‘Bandhu’ Saleem, told Minivan News no such strikes were occurring.

“As far as I’m concerned there is no strike – you are wrong,” said Saleem.

He explained that there have been no flight cancellations or delays at INIA and that “only Male’ international [airport], not domestic airports, are under my control.”

While Saleem insisted there is no strike, he noted “there are contingency plans in place [in the event of a strike].” He declined to answer further questions.

The air traffic controllers told Minivan News that while they were not aware of flights being cancelled as of early this afternoon, a flight from Dharavandhoo airport in Baa Atoll was one-and-a-half hours delayed this morning “because INIA couldn’t handle the air traffic.”

Safety and standards

The air traffic controllers claimed strike action was supported by 75 controllers – over 95 percent of the country’s qualified staff.  They are demanding the reinstatement of a professional grading system, adherence to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), and the holding of the presidential run-off election that remains suspended by the Supreme Court.

“This was not a political issue,” they emphasised. “But now because we’ve lost trust in and cannot negotiate with the current government, [the strike has taken a political direction],” the air traffic controller sources told Minivan News.

“We were counting on a new election and government so we could bring our problems to them. If there’s no election our grievances will be exacerbated. [Now] we don’t know when we’ll be able to vote and elect a new government,” the sources continued.

The controllers repeatedly emphasised that the Maldivian Air Traffic Controllers Association (MATCA) was not involved [in organising the strike], “because they don’t want this to appear a politically motivated thing.”

Concerns and demands

The air traffic controllers said staff were not getting proper breaks, domestic airports are understaffed, the radar system – installed at INIA in 2008 – does not meet ICAO standards, and the professional grading system for controllers had been abolished.

“Everyone got knocked down to the same grade one position, there have been no promotions or pay raises in four years,” the sources explained.

The professional grading system ranks experience level and qualifications, with four levels: 1) basic air traffic, 2) aerodrome (tower) controller, 3) approach controller, and 4) area controller. While the same task is performed at each level, the airspace area each controller is responsible for increases.

“If air traffic controllers are continuously stressed out they might get into trouble by losing a picture [on radar],” the sources warned. “More fatigue means more mistakes, but we can’t makes mistakes is this job.”

The sources said MACL staff from Male’ are sent to work the domestic airports. However, the majority of domestic airports are understaffed, with only one or two air traffic controllers. At least three people should be running the control tower at any given time, the sources explained.

“Where there is only one person working the tower – like in Forvumulah’s airport – that individual has to stay awake. He only gets four hours of sleep a day and has to work 30 days continuously without a day off,” they continued.

“If you are the only person on duty you cannot leave the room, it’s a safety issue,” the controllers explained.

Thimarafushi airport in Thaa Atoll has no air traffic controller, however the Civil Aviation Authority gave authorisation for the airport to operate anyway, the sources alleged.

“That’s totally fine by us, even in the US there is uncontrolled airspace. It’s not a big issue as long as the pilots feel that they can land and take off,” the sources added.

“No one to trust” in government

“The government is trying to say everything is running smoothly, while trying to buy us out,” alleged the air traffic controllers. “We also gave an interview to Haveeru yesterday but they nothing has been posted about it.”

“Minister Adheeb called us today asking us if we were on strike. He’s pretending he didn’t know that our concerns hadn’t been addressed, even though we met with him earlier this year,” the sources noted.

“Three supervisors – of eight total – went to the MACL Managing Director’s meeting today. He’s asking them to talk to us to bring us back to work,” the sources continued.

“We are professionals and don’t want to create chaos in the Maldives, but with the current situation there is no one to talk to,” they explained. “We’ve tried to do it in a democratic way and did every single thing [to resolve our grievances]. We’ve exhausted all resources. There is no one to trust,” they added.

“We have been trying to raise these problems – again – since 7 February  2012 with the current government run by [President Mohamed] Waheed, [Jumhooree Party Presidential Candidate and MP] Gasim [Ibrahim], and [Progressive Party of the Maldives Presidential Candidate and MP Abdulla] Yameen,” the sources continued. “They promised us action but didn’t take it.”

The air traffic controllers have additionally met with Vice President Waheed Dean, Defence Minister Mohamed Nazim, Tourism Minister Ahmed Adheeb, Transport Minister Ameen Ibrahim, MACL, the Civil Aviation Authority, and the Labour Relations Authority, “but nothing happened,” they explained.

Over a year ago air traffic controllers submitted a case to the Labour Tribunal signed by more than 40 individuals, the sources noted.

“On December 21, 2012, over 60 air traffic controllers signed a petition that gave notice that we would be going on strike. We were promised that by January 1 our grievances would be addressed, the grading structure would be re-implemented and we would receive proper raises,” the sources added.

The controllers agreed to withdraw the case when promised the reforms and did, however  the promised action was still not forthcoming.

“We met with MDP’s Mohamed Nasheed and he pledged that under his government he would correct the mistakes and try to get us better pay,” the controllers noted. “We [also recently] met with the other political parties, but so far nothing.”

“Some [of us] are waiting for confirmation in writing [that our demands will be met], but many are waiting for the Supreme Court to rule so we can have an election,” the sources continued. “We’ve heard that MACL ground services employees are also planning to strike.”


President Waheed ignored advice on GMR termination, PPM alleges

The Progressive Party of Maldives (PPM) has accused President Dr Mohamed Waheed of ignoring the advice of his coalition government by abruptly terminating the US$511 million airport development contract with Indian infrastructure group GMR last year.

PPM MP Ahmed Nihan said that while the PPM believed terminating the GMR contract had been the right decision, President Waheed had nonetheless personally taken an executive decision to cancel the agreement without listening to the party’s advice in seeking a compromise with the company and the Indian government.

However, the PPM’s coalition partners today accused the party of making “contradictory statements” regarding the decision to terminate GMR’s concession agreement, accusing its senior leadership of trying to terminate the deal at the time without discussion or following due process.

The allegations against President Waheed surfaced following the visit to India last week by former President and PPM founder, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, who pledged his party would seek to restore relations with India damaged by the government’s summary eviction of the GMR.

While Gayoom ultimately blamed former President Mohamed Nasheed for not obtaining parliamentary approval and “consulting all political parties” before signing the deal with the GMR-Malaysian Airports consortium in 2010, he was also critical of the present administration’s handling of the termination.

“Had Nasheed consulted all political parties, the public would not have formed the impression that corruption had taken place. Then we told the next President Mr Waheed that he should hold discussions with the GMR Group and the Indian government to arrive at an acceptable solution, after which the government was free to act on its own,” he said. “Unfortunately, this was not done and suddenly there was this unhappy ending,” Gayoom was reported as saying in the Hindu.

“Better” handling

MP Nihan said following a press conference held by the PPM in Male’ today that the party continued to believe the decision to terminate GMR’s concession agreement was in the best interest of the country.

However, amidst concerns about the subsequent negative impacts on bilateral relations from cancelling the deal, he stressed that the president could have handled the matter “better” in order to protect the relationship between the Maldives and India.

“We believe that the room was there to correct any negative relations with India,” Nihan claimed.

“This could have been much easier and perhaps a new approach could have been found to cancel the GMR contract,” he added.

Nihan said that as well as the GMR contract, President Waheed had on a number of occasions sought to take advantage of his position by making executive decisions against the wishes of his government coalition, all while trying to shift blame away from himself.

“We have seen [President Waheed] try to spin all good developments as being the result of his work, while anything that has gone wrong [in the government] is the PPM’s fault,” he said.

Following a PPM press conference today, Nihan added that the media has been shown two different letters sent from the party’s council to the government prior to the termination of the agreement last November that called to find a solution through dialogue.

Nihan also reiterated Gayoom’s comments that the manner in which the contract was not a “happy ending” in terms of its impact on bilateral relations with India.

“We are of the view that the agreement was only to be cancelled through due process of the law,” he said.

Nihan claimed that the contract dispute had also further exacerbated concerns held by the Indian government about treatment of Indian nationals in the country. He said this had in turn created difficulties for Maldivians in obtaining visas to travel to India for medical treatment.

Considering former President Gayoom’s 30 years spent in office, Nihan praised his efforts to try and strengthen bilateral relations with India.

The government’s sudden eviction of the Indian investor did not appear on a list of 11 grievances handed to all senior Maldivian reporters by the Indian High Commission in January.  The list instead included concerns such as discrimination against Indian expatriates and the confiscation of passports by Maldivian employers.


The argument over responsibility for the GMR contract termination has comes amidst reports of increased tension within the present coalition government, with PPM presidential candidate Abdullah Yameen last month criticising President Waheed over his alleged use of state funds for campaigning.

The PPM has nonetheless pledged to continue supporting President Waheed’s government up until September’s election, despite concerns about the decision to dismiss former Home Minister Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed after he decided to stand as MP Yameen’s running mate.

DRP response

The PPM’s recent criticism of President Waheed’s handling of the GMR dispute was today slammed as being “contradictory” by government coalition partner the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP).

The party added that its members had previously come under heavy criticism from the PPM for advocating at the time that any termination of the GMR airport deal should be made via the due process of the law.

DRP Parliamentary Group Leader Dr Abdulla Mausoom told Minivan News that it was in fact senior figures in the PPM that were  among the most vocal supporters for terminating the GMR agreement.

“It is ironic that we are hearing these statements from the PPM, whose leader has been witnessed supporting rallies demanding the cancellation of the [GMR] agreement,” he said.

Dr Mausoom alleged that he had also been informed from “a reliable political source” present during government consultations last year over whether to terminate the GMR agreement that it had been PPM presidential candidate Yameen who personally advocated cancelling the deal without a need for discussion.

“Either there is no harmony within the [PPM], or this is all political talk to try and gain an advantage. Either was it is very irresponsible,” he said of the PPM’s recent comments about terminating the GMR concession agreement.

Mausoom alleged that contrary to the PPM’s claims, it had been the DRP which had advocated finding a legal means of terminating the GMR agreement at at time when fellow government-aligned parties had taken to the streets holding rallies demanding the airport be “reclaimed”.

Despite appeals by GMR that it was acting as a caretaker for running and improving Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA), which would remain Maldivian-owned, efforts to cancel the concession agreement – which was vetted by the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation (IFC) – intensified up to November.

On November 13, just ahead of the contract termination, a seaborne armada of about 15 dhonis carrying flags and banners circled the airport seeking to increase pressure on the government to “reclaim” the site from GMR.