A US$8 million airport development project in Raa Atoll was handed over to Island Aviation Wednesday, as an NGO warned that building contractors were not practicing what they preached when it came to environmental protection.
The project is to be built on Fainu island, which has 400 residents. As well as an airport there will be two hotels, a medical facility, a hangar, lounges and restaurants.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer signed the agreement with Island’s managing director Abdulla Haris who said the money was secured by selling flight tickets in advance, local media reported.
Universal Resorts and another resort in Raa atoll paid for the tickets. The airport on Fainu means that Raa Atoll will have two airports, with the other located on Ifuru.
The environment impact assessment will be done in a month, Haris said at the signing event, and a contractor will also be found in the same period to complete the airport in a year.
“MU” Mohamed Manik, who is chairman of Universal and of the Maldives Airport Development Company (MACL), said the addition of Fainu airport would make things easier for Raa Atoll resorts.
Both Manik and Zameer agreed it was important to build airports in an environmentally friendly manner. But NGO Eco Care warned that not enough was being done to minimise the damage caused by airport construction.
“The current airport construction practices do not fall under sustainable development,” Eco Care’s Maeed Mohamed Zahir told the Maldives Independent.
“In addition to that we see EIA recommendations aren’t being followed. For one thing, mitigation measures to protect the environment aren’t being taken and the few compensation measures highlighted in the EIA aren’t carried out.
“We see that with Kulhudhuffushi. They said they would create an artificial mangrove, but how are they going to do it? And who is going to do it? [Contractors] say they will take protective measures, but we don’t see it in practice.
“As for airports, we need air transport between islands, and that is not always an airport. We need to fund more seaplane ports.”
There are 11 airports operating in the Maldives, including four international ones. The 2018 budget included funding for airports in Kulhudhuffushi, Funadhoo, Nilandhoo and Maavarulu.
Island Aviation operates Maldivian airlines, which is the largest carrier in the Maldives.
Raa Atoll, which is an eight hour boat ride from the capital, began developing its tourism industry in recent years. It was previously known for boat building.
MP Ibrahim Falah, from Raa constituency, was also at the signing event and said the atoll had the greatest number of uninhabited islands in the Maldives. He hoped these would be turned into resorts by 2020.
MU Manik said airports were necessary to make the most out of resort investment and the country’s main international airport.
“The government has spent a lot of money to develop Velana International Airport. It is being built to the highest standards. It is a big investment. The number of people going to VIA will only grow if we develop domestic airports.
“A lot of resorts are being built. But even if there are resorts, it’ll be for nothing if people can’t go there. That’s why I believe [airport development] is a very important thing. This is a significant step to develop tourism.”
– Airports and loans –
In a separate development Maldives tycoon ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa landed the airport project in Lhaviyani Madivaru, as the government said it would stop leasing out resorts and focus on airports instead.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer signed an agreement last Tuesday handing over the project to Kuredu Holdings, which is owned by Mohamed Moosa who has five resorts in the atoll.
The event was held at the underwater restaurant in Hurawalhi resort, owned by Moosa’s Crown & Champa Resorts.
“Our policy is that there should be an airport 30 to 40 minutes away from every inhabited island. That is how we are developing,” said Zameer.
Kuredu Holdings will spend more than US$11 million on the project.
The domestic airport will have a runway of a little more than a kilometre in length and accommodate smaller aircrafts with passenger capacities of between 50 to 70 people. Up to three hectares of land will be reclaimed for the project, Zameer said.
Kuredu is also planning on developing a hotel in Madivaru.
Zameer said that Moosa was giving the government an interest free loan to build an airport in Gaaf Dhaal Maravalu.
“We have stopped leasing out resorts because we are [focusing on] developing airports,” said Zameer “If the income from the airport is not enough, city hotels can be developed on airport islands.”
The Maldives Independent was unable to reach Kuredu for comment on the interest-free loan, the status of the environmental impact assessment report and the project’s timeframe.
This story has been updated.