President Abdulla Yameen has decided to change the name of the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport to Velana International Airport with effect on January 1, 2017.
The decision to rebrand the Maldives’ main airport was made following consultations at Monday’s cabinet meeting, “focusing on the transformation of the airport in line with the administration’s economic vision,” the president’s office said.
Yameen unveiled an ambitious plan to develop the airport with US$800 million worth of foreign loans last April with the aim of catering to more than seven million passengers by 2018.
The airport was renamed INIA in July 2011 by former President Mohamed Nasheed in honour of the late President Ibrahim Nasir, who oversaw its development in 1964 as prime minister. Nasir’s successor, former President Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, had also changed the airport’s name in 1980 from Hulhulé Airport to Malé International Airport.
“While concise ‘Velana‘ is also a reference to former Prime Minister Sumuvvul Ameer Ibrahim Nasir Rannabandeyrikilegefaanu,” the president’s office explained.
The establishment of the international airport had “proved significant in developing and cementing several key foreign relations while also enhancing the country’s economy,” it added.
The president’s office also said that the leasing of INIA in 2010 to Indian infrastructure giant GMR “had come at great economic cost to the Maldives.”
However, “the impending downturn has been avoided with legal matters concluded and the control of the nation’s gateway back in line with larger national interests.”
In November, the state-owned airport company paid US$271 million to GMR as compensation for the termination of its concession agreement to upgrade and manage the airport.
It was later revealed that the central bank used the Maldives’ international reserve to buy a US$140 million bond from the airport company to help settle GMR’s arbitration award.
The current administration has meanwhile secured loans from the Saudi Fund for Development and the OPEC Fund to finance the airport expansion. An agreement was signed with the Kuwait Fund in early August for a concessional loan worth US$50 million with a maturity of 20 years.
In May, a contract was signed with the Saudi Binladin Group to build a new passenger terminal for an undisclosed amount.
The government also obtained a US$373 million concessionary loan from the Chinese EXIM Bank and enlisted China’s Beijing Urban Construction Group to build a new 3.2-kilometre runway, a fuel farm, and a cargo complex.
“The enhancing and expansion of the airport and its facilities in line with President Yameen’s vision is set to reinvigorate the nation’s economy; similar in significance to the economic transformation brought about by the initial development of 1964,” the president’s office said.
“Upon completion, the tourism sector will see significant growth while at the same time the airport would work towards becoming a major hub for distance travel.”