The government has awarded a US$57.5 million project to Malaysia’s Gryphon Energy Corporation to build five domestic airports in four atolls.
The regional airports are to be developed on the islands of Kulhudhufushi in Haa Dhaal atoll, Funadhoo in Shaviyani atoll, Nilandhoo in Faafu atoll, and Maavarulu and Faresmaathoda in Gaaf Dhaal atoll.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer told the press after the signing ceremony Tuesday morning that new regional airports will be needed when the expansion of the Velana International Airport to cater to more than seven million passengers a year is complete.
“Based on the increase of passengers along with that we want to connect the atolls and Malé. We now have difficulties sending people from Malé to the atolls,” he told reporters.
The majority of tourist resorts in the Maldives are located in the central atolls or “seaplane zone” near Malé. But more resorts are now under development in far-flung atolls.
Some 1.3 million tourists visited the Maldives last year. The government says the VIA expansion is necessary to accommodate large jets and increase passenger capacity fivefold in order to address bottlenecks in the economy.
Zameer said the new domestic airports are expected to be completed in October 2018. The government has identified other islands such as Felivaru in Lhaviyani atoll where it would be “financially feasible” to build further airports, he added.
It is unclear if the Malaysian company – which describes itself as “incorporated with a vision to be a niche service provider for the offshore oil and gas industry” – won a bid for the project.
Changes brought to the public finance regulations in 2015 allows large-scale projects to be awarded without a competitive bidding process.
Dirk Johann Quinten, Gryphon’s chief corporate officer, signed the contracts on behalf of the company, which he said established business ties with the Maldives some months ago.
“We like this project because, as the minister said, it has an impact on the social life of the citizens of this country, so that’s always something to look forward to and work on,” he said.
Zameer said the new airports will be managed jointly by the state-owned Island Aviation company and the regional airports department under the tourism ministry.
Developing an airport on Kulhudhufushi, a population hub in the north, is a campaign pledge of President Abdulla Yameen. But environmentalists have previously warned that it would destroy the island’s environmentally sensitive wetland area.
Zameer said today that the island’s mangrove would have to be reclaimed to build the airport. Developing airports on Funadhoo, Nilandhoo, and Faresmaathoda would also involve land reclamation and shore protection work, he added.
“God willing, the company has prepared very well for these three projects,” he said.