New runway opens in Maldives airport

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The new runway of the Velana International Airport was operationalised on Thursday morning (6 October) in a historic milestone for the Maldives’ main airport.

The day’s first flight, an Emirates B777 aircraft, was welcomed with a water salute.

Spanning 3,400 meters in length and 60 meters in width, the code-F runway allows VIA to accommodate A380 Aircraft and significantly increases operational capacity.

Ahead of the tourism industry’s peak season, VIA will now be able to serve 21 planes an hour, up from eight at the old runway. The runway clearance time is also expected to fall from 15 minutes to three minutes after a flight lands. The old runway – which was built more than 60 years ago and required extensive maintenance and repairs – will hereafter be used as a taxiway. 

According to VIA, the new runway “features advanced navigational technologies that will assist aircrafts in both good and adverse weather conditions.” Oil tankers will no longer be needed as fuel will be pumped from designated stations.

Built by the Beijing Urban Construction Group (BUCG) with Chinese loan assistance, the US$150 million runway was completed in 2018. But it could not be used for takeoff and landing as the old seaplane terminal was in closer proximity than required by international standards. The old Trans Maldivian Airways terminal was dismantled recently after a newly-built seaplane terminal opened in July.

Officially opened by the vice president on Thursday morning, the new seaplane terminal and dock can accommodate more than 100 seaplanes and operate 300 daily flights on average – rising to 600 during peak season – with the capacity to serve more than 6,000 tourists a day.

With 28,000 square meters of floor space, the four-storey terminal building includes offices, arrival lobbies, and 43 lounges, most of which are dedicated for resorts aside from the MACL’s VIP and business lounges. The terminal’s sleek design reflects the turquoise and blue shades of the famed Maldivian lagoons. Counters for Trans Maldivian Airways – which operates the world’s largest seaplane fleet – the privately-owned Manta Air and national carrier Maldivian airline are located at the entrance.

Over 35,000 square meters of land was reclaimed and over 720 meters of sheet piling was done at the eastern lagoon of Hulhulé island for the US$55 million seaplane project.