The Maldives currently is no stranger to domestic aviation operations. The island nation currently has 18 airports; international and domestic. Out of this total, five are international airports which include;
- Gan International Airport
- Hanimaadhoo International Airport
- Maafaru International Airport
- Velana International Airport
- Villa International Airport
In addition to these, there are 13 domestic airports in B. Dharavandhoo, Gn. Fuvahmulah, GDh. Maavarulu, R. Ifuru, GDh. Kaadehdhoo, L. Kadhdhoo, GA. Kooddoo, Dh. Kudahuvadhoo, Th. Thimarafushi, HDh. Kulhudhuffushi, Lh. Madivaru, Sh. Funadhoo, and HA. Hoarafushi.
Meanwhile, a number of domestic airlines operate in the country, including;
- Maldivian Airline
- Manta Air
- Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA)
According to the most recent update from the Ministry of Tourism, there are a total of 36 international airlines operating in the Maldives.
The aforementioned details all give a notable impression of how much the aviation industry in the country has developed. But this article will not focus on the current status quo of the Maldivian aviation industry, but rather on its interesting history.
To date, a total of 8 different domestic airlines have operated in the Maldives. These include;
- Air Maldives – 1974 to 2000 (bankrupted)
- Maldives International Airlines – 1977 to 1984 (ceased)
- Maldives Airways – 1984 to 1986 (bankrupted)
- Maldivian Air Taxi – 1993 to 2013 (merged into Trans Maldivian Airways)
- Island Aviation Services – 1998 to 2008 (merged into Maldivian)
- Ocean Air – 2000 to 2002 (ceased)
- Air Equator – 2004 to 2005 (ceased)
- Mega Maldives – 2010 to 2017 (ceased)
Air Maldives (1974 to 2000)
Air Maldives was the very first national airline and flag carrier of the Maldives. The airline was established on October 1, 1974, during the presidency of Ibrahim Nasir.
The airline operated for about 26 years before declaring bankruptcy and stopped all of its operations in 2000.
The airline had a fleet size of 6 planes and operated to 14 destinations. Anbaree Abdul Sattar filled the Chairman’s position of the airline while Fauzi Bin Ayob was its Managing Director.
The airline entered into service with just two Convair 440 aircraft purchased from Caribbean United Airlines. The aircraft was dubbed ‘Flying Fish I’ and ‘Flying Fish II’.
The first Air Maldives aircraft landed at the then-Hulhule’ Airport on October 9, 1974.
Air Maldives operated scheduled flights between Male’ and Colombo six times a week, while a domestic service commenced with a fortnightly flight between Male’ and Gan. In 1976, a Singapore-based company called Tri-9 Corporation obtained 49% shareholding in the company and took over the management and operation of the airline on June 1, 1976. Around this time, the airline stopped its flights to Gan following the withdrawal of the Royal Air Force from its airbase on the Addu atoll island.
By the time Tri-9 took over, the two aircraft in Air Maldives were in a poor state, and keeping them in the operation would have proven dangerous. The aircraft were ferried to Seletar for overhauling, while one of the aircraft (Flying Fish I) was found to be beyond “economic repair” – the plane was never put to use again. Air Maldives replaced the Flying Fish I with another Convair 440 in October 1976, while Flying Fish II underwent a major overhaul and re-entered service in November 1976.
In May 1977, the airline ceased its operations after the Maldivian government grounded its aircraft and froze its assets.
This was the period when Air Maldives was confined to the domestic field. The airline operated regular flights with a Short Skyvan between Male’ and Gan. The Skyvan was eventually replaced by two Dornier 228 planes around the late 1980s; around this time two other domestic airports opened in Hanimaadhoo and Kadhdhoo.
This was the airline’s last era of operation. In the 1990s the airline boosted with a new flow of investment and began international operations once more. Air Maldives became a joint venture airline between the Maldivian government; which owned 51% and Naluri Berhad owned the remaining 49%.
The airline’s operations extended by the mid-90s and on November 10, 1994, Air Maldives began operating scheduled flights to Dubai, Colombo, Trivandrum, and Kuala Lumpur. Additionally, flights to Bangkok and London via Dubai were introduced as well.
Despite the improved performance of the airline by the mid and late 90s, the airline dissolved in 2000 due to bankruptcy with losses estimated at between USD69.2 million.
To date, the actual reasons for the airline’s demise were never fully publicized. However, there is speculation that officers in high government positions are meant to be protected by this non-disclosure.
Maldives International Airlines (1977 to 1984)
There is no information available about this airline, though the airline ceased its operations in 1984 which coincided with the inception of Maldives Airways in the country.
Maldives Airways (1984 to 1986)
Another ill-fated airline that operated in the Maldives from 1984 to 1986. Maldives Airways offered scheduled passenger flights using a fleet of four Douglas DC-8 aircraft and three Fokker F-27s.
For an airline that sprang up during the mid-80s, the usage of American-made airplanes seemed an impressive feat considering Air Maldives, the state airline which was still in operation, had only one Short Skyvan at the time.
Maldives Airways was jointly owned and operated by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
PLO was also the owner of the Transportes Aereos da Guine-Bissau airline, then headed by Faiz Zaidan who would later be in charge of civil aviation for the Palestinian authority. The airline was among several companies that acted as a screen for the secret activities of PLO at the time, reportedly. Moreover, it was claimed that Maldives Airways planes were engaged in smuggling weapons or drugs for the Palestinian Authority; though this is a contested fact.
Moreover, Maldivian authorities had supposedly allowed the airline to operate from Maldivian soil without restrictions but it is not clear whether they were aware of the nature of the airline’s operations.
Initial routes for the airline’s DC-8s were Colombo, Madras, Trivandrum, and Dubai.
Around this period, some tourist resort operators in the Maldives were alarmed about PLO having a foothold in the Maldives while the German press highlighted these concerns.
In 1986, the airline went bankrupt and in 1987 the two Maldives Airways DC-8s were sold to Connie Kalitta Services.
Maldivian Air Taxi (1993 to 2013)
Maldivian Air Tax (MAT) was a domestic carrier, and also was one of the largest seaplane operators in the world. The airline operated over 500 flights a week during peak tourism season.
The airline began in November 1993 with two aircraft. The airline grew to the tourist resorts requiring seaplane transport services for guests.
Maldivian Air Taxi was established by Danish investors. It was wholly owned by Lars Erik Nielsen who acted as its chairman. As of March 2007, the airline employed 275 people. At the time of its merger, the airline had 20 planes and operated to 52 domestic destinations.
In 2013, The Blackstone Group, an American equity fund, announced they were acquiring both Maldivian Air Taxi and rival Trans Maldivian Airways (TMA). A merger was brought underway and retained the TMA name and colors of MAT.
TMA currently operates 44 De Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters, including three brand new 400 series.
Ocean Air (2000 to 2002)
Surprisingly, there is not enough information available about this airline that operated for a period of roughly just two years.
Air Equator (2004 to 2005)
This airline was based in Gan, Addu City. It operated services linking Gan to other major islands in the country. The airline had just one plane in its fleet and operated to only 4 destinations.
Air Equator was established in 2003 and received its air operator’s certificate on October 10, 2004. The airline began its operations on October 15, 2004, with flights from Gan to Male’.
The airline was owned by A. Faiz and A. Murthy who owned 60% of the company’s shares and the other 40% was owned by Ziaf Enterprises Maldives. The majority shares of the company would, later on, be purchased by SPA Aviation, Sri Lanka.
The airline’s operations took a heavy hit during the Asian tsunami in December 2004. Despite being in economical distress, the airline flew some relief material to affected islands.
Moreover, around this time, the airline was chartered by the media and press accompanying the then Turkish Prime Minister, who visited the Maldives to survey the damage done by the tsunami.
The airline discontinued all of its flights in May 2005 and finally ceased its operations in August 2005. This discontinuation originated due to a fallout between SPA Aviation and A. Faiz regarding financial and administrative control.
Mega Maldives (2010 to 2017)
Mega Maldives was based at then Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (current Velana International Airport).
Mega Maldives was awarded an air operator’s certificate (AOC) on December 22, 2010. Its maiden flight was on December 28, 2010, from Male’ to Gan.
The airline began its international operations on January 21, 2011, between Hong Kong and Gan. Initially, Mega Maldives operated flights between Hong Kong and Gan once every 5 days. The route was later changed to Hong Kong and Male’ but retained the unique 5-day pattern.
Mega Maldives began scheduled service from Male’ to Shanghai on July 16 and to Beijing on July 22, 2011.
As its operations grew, the airline operated 4 to 5 flights a week to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong depending on the season. The airline also served Chongqing, Chengdu, and Hangzhou – all Chinese destinations – and Incheon, South Korea with seasonal services.
In September 2016 the airline announced it would cut 65 of its 400 staff and postponed planned new routes until further notice. In the same month, the airline introduced its first Boeing 737-800 on wet-lease from Travel Service.
However, the airline suspended all of its operations on May 2, 2017, citing restructuring measures. But it has since ceased all of its flight operations entirely.