Maldives airport operator praises “smooth” handover as government remains undecided on INIA future

The Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) has said there has been no disruption to services at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA) after it resumed management of the site from infrastructure group GMR on Saturday (December 8 )  – a claim backed by several resort operators and airlines.

Indian-based GMR yesterday handed INIA over to the state-owned Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) after the Maldivian government had voided its concession agreement, giving the company seven days to leave the country.

The sudden eviction of the developer – which won a 25 year concession under the former government to manage and upgrade the airport – scraps the project, which at US$511 million was the single largest foreign investment in the Maldives.

Upon reclaiming management of the airport yesterday, MACL Managing Director Mohamed Ibrahim told Minivan News that the handover had gone “smoothly”, with INIA continuing to operate over the last 24 hours as it had done under GMR.

“We have the same staff and equipment here as before [the handover]. Two years back we handed over the same equipment to GMR and there has been no discontinuation of service,” he said.

As part the GMR’s concession agreement, aside from developing an entirely new airport terminal building, the company had also undertaken work to renovate and update INIA’s existing terminal structures and operations – including retail and baggage handling facilities.

With MACL once again managing the site, a senior services manager for one of the largest airlines presently flying to the Maldives told Minivan News that it had experienced “no issues at all” in terms of operating in and out of the country since the handover.

Similarly, the general manager of a resort in Male Atoll also stressed that there had been no disruptions to service.

“Certainly so far there has been no impacts on our arrivals or departures, things seem to have gone smoothly,” the general manager said.

Future direction

When contacted about the future for the airport post-GMR, the President’s Office today told Minivan News that no decision had yet been taken on when – or if – the country would look to tender a new privatisation agreement for the site.

“Nothing of that kind has been decided,” said President’s Office Media Secretary Masood Imad.

Asked as to what action would be taken over the existing structures put in place by GMR before work on its proposed new terminal was halted over a permit dispute earlier this year, Masood questioned why the President’s Office had been contacted over the technical “nitty gritty” of the airport.

“We don’t micromanage all aspects of the airport, these are questions for the Transport Ministry,” he said.

Development conference calls

Meanwhile, the religious Adhaalath Party, which forms part of the government coalition of President Dr Mohamed Waheed Hassan, today called for a national level conference to be held on how INIA should be developed and operated in future.

Speaking at a press conference, party President Sheikh Imran Abdullah told local media that the airport development should not be delayed, calling for a conference to be held to air opinions on how best to proceed in future – not ruling out foreign expertise if needed.

“All people involved in this sector should come together soon for a national conference, the result of which should be a vision of how the airport should be operated in the future,” he was quoted by Sun Online.

Sheikh Imran was not responding to calls from Minivan News at time of press.

In recent months, the Adhaalath Party has been among several key government-aligned parties working to oppose the GMR agreement.

Sheikh Imran has previously predicted there would be “some unrest and damage” should the GMR deal be annulled, but nonetheless urged people to come out and support the calls for nationalisation.  The GMR deal was a 25 year concession agreement, with the airport still belonging to the government.