The High Court on Thursday upheld the Civil Court's verdict that the government had seized Kaadehdhoo Airport from Villa Air in 2017 unlawfully.
The state handed over operations of Kaadehdhoo Airport in Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll to Villa Air in 2013 for a period of 50 years. However, the company, which is part of Jumhooree party leader Qasim Ibrahim's conglomerate Villa Group, was accused of violating Civil Aviation regulations and the government nullified the contract in 2017.
The Civil Court ruled in November 2018 that the termination was unlawful and ordered the government to hand the airport back to Villa Air, adding that there were legal grounds for the company to demand compensation for damages incurred. Following the appeal process, the High Court on Thursday decided to uphold the lower court's ruling.
In its verdict, the appellate court noted that the government broke off the agreement based on a report by Island Aviation Services (IAS) regarding an aircraft accident, and an assessment report publicised by the Civil Aviation Authority.
However, the court pointed out that IAS' report did not allege that its aircraft was damaged in landing at Kaadehdhoo Airport, and that IAS further stated that it will continue to operate to Kaadehdhoo. The verdict also highlighted that the state did not object after Villa Air stated in court that IAS aircrafts continued to fly to Kaadehdhoo even after the assessment report.
Furthermore, the verdict noted that the Civil Aviation's 2016 assessment report did not order to halt operations to Kaadehdhoo, while its follow-up assessment granted an extension to Villa Air to complete safety procedures. Following the assessments, Civil Aviation granted the operating license to Villa Air in January 2017.
Moreover, the High Court highlighted that the agreement between the government and Villa Air recognised Civil Aviation as the final authority on matters related to airport operations and license, which the state could not alter. The ruling pointed out that Civil Aviation had allowed operations to proceed and licensed Villa Air to manage the airport even after its assessment, and thus it was inferred that Kaadehdhoo Airport was being operated in accordance with Civil Aviation regulations.
Hence, the High Court ruled that the government's decision to terminate the Kaadehdhoo Airport agreement was unlawful, and upheld the Civil Court's verdict to return the airport to Villa Air.
Presiding over the case were Chief Judge Shujau Usman, Judge Hassan Ali and Judge Abdulla Hameed.