A test flight landed Tuesday at the new international airport nearing completion on Maafaru island in Noonu atoll.
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer, ruling coalition lawmakers and government officials travelled on the 25-minute maiden flight from the capital on national carrier Maldivian.
“When this airport opens, this region will become the most valuable in Maldives tourism,” Zameer told reporters on the tarmac.
The 2.2 kilometre-long, 40 metre-wide runway is complete and scheduled flights would begin in September once the airport tower and terminal are ready, he said. The runway can accommodate the Airbus A320 and Boeing 737.
President Abdulla Yameen called the airport a “gift” from the United Arab Emirates, which financed the project with a US$60 million grant from the Abu Dhabi Fund.
An agreement was signed with the Abu Dhabi Fund in December to develop Noonu atoll as an ultra-luxury tourism zone, including the airport project and a city hotel in Maafaru.
The northern atoll is home to high-end resorts such as Soneva Jani, Velaa Private Island, Cheval Blanc Randheli and Sun Siyam Irufushi.
The UAE is also the Maldives’ top trading partner.
In December, environmental groups raised concerns over the approval of environmental impact assessments for the Maafaru airport without public consultation.
This is such a huge waste of usable land. Maafaru island has a sizeable bay like lagoon which would have being perfect for seaplanes. Why not seaplane? All this greenery & beauty could have being used more productively. Land is the most scarce & important resource in Maldives. pic.twitter.com/fgaUxj38ZH
— Abdulla Adam (@Abdulla_Adam) August 14, 2018
Photo: Tourism Ministry