A test flight landed Wednesday in the newly-built airstrip on Kulhudhuffushi island, two days after the contractor finished laying tar on the runway.
The runway was completed Sunday night with the state-owned Maldives Transport and Contracting Company working at “full capacity” and scrambling for the test landing before Sunday’s presidential election.
An airport for Kulhudhuffushi, a northern population hub and an opposition stronghold, was a pledge made by President Abdulla Yameen in his 2013 campaign.
Only the runway, taxiway and the apron have been completed. The terminal – which is to be a pre-fabricated building – and the air tower are unfinished.
Earlier this month, the government’s Regional Airports department gave residents living in houses near the airstrip a five-day deadline to move out. Ruling party supporters threatened to evict one man who refused to move out before he received compensation.
Eighteen houses needed to be torn down for the airport project.
Sixteen of these houses have now been vacated and the families have been compensated, Regional Airports said Wednesday.
One of the remaining houses is contesting compensation terms ordered by the magistrate court. Abdul Latheef Moosa, the council’s president, told Mihaaru the two houses would also be vacated soon.
The chartered Maldivian airline flight landed on the island’s airstrip Wednesday afternoon. The guests who arrived on the maiden flight, including Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer and ruling party MP Ahmed Nihan, were greeted by a traditional dance.
Islanders gathered to watch the spectacle, according to breathless media reports.
A headline on Mihaaru read, “Planes now landing on where birds used to alight” whilst an Avas headline declared, “Can’t put into words the happiness for Kulhudhuffushi people.”
Tourism Minister Moosa Zameer said chartered flights will begin operating from Thursday. Scheduled flights will begin soon, he added.
“It’s President Yameen who made this airport a reality. He did it while the opposition said don’t do it,” Zameer told a crowd of supporters.
People are expected to arrive on chartered flights on voting day, a promise made by the president during his last visit in August.
– A solution –
They say the airport will help with transporting patients to the capital Malé for urgent medical care.
The Kulhuduffushi Regional Hospital – which caters to 20,000 people in the northern atolls – has been the subject of controversy for years. Successive governments have failed to properly develop the hospital and islanders feel that the airport is a solution.
“Three or four patients are taken to Hanimadhoo every week. So what an ease this is. We can now take patients in such situations without all that hassle,” a 65-year-old man told Mihaaru.
Developing hospitals in Kulhudhuffushi and Addu to tertiary level was also a pledge of President Yameen. Neither has come to fruition.
On Wednesday, the regional news website Kulhudhuffushi Online reported that a 22-year-old boy from the nearby Nolhivaram island died while being treated at a hospital in India, days after Kulhudhuffushi Regional Hospital refused to authorise emergency evacuation.
According to Kulhudhuffushi Online, Jaishan Jameel was taken to the Kulhudhuffushi hospital in August for swelling and asthma. But doctors refused to sign a medical form for the family to travel to Malé.
He was a thalassaemia patient, according to KO.