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History and Future of Velana International Airport as it marks 58 years of service

Mariyath Mohamed
12 April 2024, MVT 16:48
Velana International Airport
Mariyath Mohamed
12 April 2024, MVT 16:48

Velana International Airport (VIA) is a key contributor to the Maldives' economy, as was made evident during the shocks felt by the economy during the Covid-19 related travel restrictions. Hence, it is an uncontested fact that it is in the best interests of the nation to maintain and develop this main international airport to efficient, modern standards appealing to travelers from around the globe.

The World Bank has also noted in it s recent report that the completion of the planned new terminal at VIA would see Maldives economic development see an improvement from 4.9 percent to 5.2 percent.

Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL) Managing Director Ibrahim Shareef stated that the aim is to transform VIA into an airport that provides the best quality services. With Maldives being renowned as a luxury tourism destination, Shareef said that the aim is to raise airport services up to a par with this.

"Velana International Airport, as it is now, is designed to handle a very limited number of passengers. The crowding we see from time to time is due to receiving more passengers than our physical capacity can cater to. The opening of the new terminal is amongst the solutions we are finding for this," Shareef said.

As it marks its 58th year in service, it is an ideal time to reflect on its humble beginnings, bustling activity at present, and the ambitious expansion projects currently being planned and undertaken.

1960 - The Beginning

Velana International Airport

The first ever aircraft to land at VIA was a Royal New Zealand Air Force Transport Plane, which touched down on a simple slotted steel runway on October 19, 1960.

Two years later, on April 10, 1962, an Air Ceylon flight arrived, marking the beginning of commercial flights.

Hulhule' Airport was officially opened on April 12, 1966 with the government creating Airport Office to oversee its management. This office, through many transformations, later grew into MACL.

The airport saw slow, but steady progress. In November 1981, then President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom inaugurated the Male' International Airport with improved infrastructure.

VIA Traffic statistics for 2023

Total Air Traffic Movement: 62,866

Total Arrivals: 2,865,547

Total Departures: 2,864,799

Total Cargo In: 41,179,422

Total Cargo Out: 15,124,320

Total Transshipped Cargo: 7,501,603

No. of airlines currently operating at VIA: 32

New Developmental Projects at VIA

Velana International Airport

- New Runway: This new runway is 3400 meters in length and 60 meters wide, large enough to easily accommodate A380 aircrafts. It is currently in operation.

- New Fuel Farm and Fuel Hydrant System: Under this project, the fuel farm has tripled in size. An 8.4 km fuel hydrant has been installed as well, raising efficiency and safety standards. These are currently in operation.

- New International Passenger Terminal Building: This terminal will have the capacity to cater up to 7.5 million passengers annually. Additional developments to be seen here include aero boarding bridges and modern baggage handling systems, adding to the efficiency of services provided. The terminal will also house a wide variety of cafe's and restaurants, shops, lounges and other services for passengers. It is expected to be in operation by the end of 2024.

- New CIP/VIP Building: It began operations in January 2022, catering to 95 passengers at a time. The terminal offers check-in, catering, prayer facilities, high speed WiFi, shower facilities, private lounges, smoking rooms and a variety of entertainment options.

Shareef spoke to Mihaaru about these efforts.

"If there is confidence that if a flight that leaves from Velana Airport will reach in time to make it to another connecting flight, then airlines will have no hesitation in flying here. There are a lot of efforts like this happening behind the scenes as well," Shareef said.

President Dr Muizzu's 20 Year Master Plan

Velana International Airport

As per President Dr Mohamed Muizzu's visionary 20 year Master Plan, the new passenger terminal, which will accommodate 7 million passengers in its first phase of development, is expected to raise its capacity to cater to 25 million passengers annually within the 20 years.

He also aims to expand the new cargo terminal at the airport from handling 100,000 MT by 2025 to 300,000 MT by 2050.

With the newly established fuel farm having the storage capacity of 15 million litres, the aspired capacity by the end of twenty years is projected as 45 million litres.

A Maintenance, Repairs and Overhauls facility is also to be developed, resulting in expanding the services provided at VIA while also ensuring the safety and efficiency of aircraft operating out of the airport.

The Domestic Terminal will also see new improvements, with its current capacity of serving 300 passengers per hour seeing a rise to 2000 passengers per hour. The terminal itself is also slated for expansion, with the establishment of eight departure gates.

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