A brief history of Velana International Airport
Velana International Airport is the main gateway to the Maldives and is today celebrating its 55th anniversary. Let’s take a brief look at the history of VIA.
The very first days of VIA dates back to the early 1960s when a 1000m runway was built on a strip of cleared land in the middle of Hulhulé by the British. Royal New Zealand Airforce was the first operator to land an aircraft to the airport on 19th October 1960. Air Ceylon operated the first commercial flight on 19th April 1962.
VIA saw a new beginning in 1964 as the government of Maldives began construction of the airport. Many locals engaged in the construction of the airport as on the first day alone over 108 volunteers participated in the project and 1563.08 Maldivian Rufiya were donated. The slotted steel runway was upgraded to a new and improved 2840m asphalt runway.
As the construction was completed, the new ‘Hulhulé Airport’ was officially opened on 12th April 1966 by former President Mr. Ibrahim Nasir.
A steady traffic growth started as a result of the expansion of the tourism sector in the 1970s. The first national airline, Air Maldives commenced operations with two Convair 440 landing at Hulhulé Airport for the first time on 9th October 1974.
Male’ International Airport.
Hulhulé Airport was once again upgraded with improved infrastructure to manage the high flow of traffic and was officially opened as ‘Male’ International Airport’ by the former president Mr. Maumoom Abdul Gayyoom on 11th November 1981.
On 1st January 1994, Maldives Airports Company Ltd (MACL) was formed to operate and manage the Male' International Airport which is governed by the board of directors appointed by the President of the Maldives.
The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami
The 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami occurred at 00:58:53 UTC on 26 December, with an epicentre off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia. In the Maldives all islands except for 9 were hit by the tsunami. 82 people were killed and 24 people were reported missing and presumed dead.
The tsunami hit the Male’ International Airport without any warning with waves that rushed up over the runway and entered the main terminal. The height of the tsunami striking the airport was more than 6ft approximately. Two-thirds of the airport island was flooded and the runway was out of operation for approximately 10 hours resulting from debris and detritus due to the flooding.
There were several aircraft on the tarmac with three seaplane on the water taxing and one seaplane on approach for landing. As the telecommunications had collapsed, communication between airport, resorts and tour operators were impossible. Initially there was chaos in the airport with hundreds of traumatized passengers as they were not ready nor fully equipped to handle such a distaster.
Ibrahim Nasir International Airport
In 2010, GMR Group won the bid for privatization along with the development of the airport and its operation for 25 years. By the end of 2010, MACL officially handed to the newly formed GMR Malé International Airport Ltd.
GMIAL announced that the development plans included reclaiming land, construction of a new terminal with a separate cargo terminal, etc. By 2011 the airport was officially renamed as the Ibrahim Nasir International Airport in memory of the 2nd president of the Maldives.
However, the GMR development project faced numerous delays and in 2012, the government declared that the agreement was valid ab initio and on 27 November 2012 gave GMIAL a deadline of seven days to 'evict the airport'. MACL was reinstated and the airport was handed over by GMR on 7th December.
Velana International Airport
On 1st January 2017, the airport was once again rebranded to Velana International Airport, referring to the family household name of President Ibrahim Nasir, and a new expansion projection began which include a new runway, new passenger and cargo terminal, new seaplane terminal, and etc.
On 18 September 2018, VIA opened its new 3,400m runway, and the very first test aircraft, an Etihad Airbus A380 landed on 26th June 2019.
The foundation work of the new passenger terminal was completed in December 2019 which is designed to serve 7.3 million passengers. The building will also feature aero boarding bridges, baggage handling systems, retail spaces, food and beverage outlets, and lounges.
The airport will have a new 37,000m² fuel farm located on the northwest side of the airport. The fuel farm will have the capacity to hold 45 million liters of Jet A1 fuel, 100,000l of petrol, and one million liters of diesel. A fuel hydrant system is also being installed to increase safety and reduce service time for the airlines.
The 12,000m² cargo terminal complex will be able to handle 120,000t of freight. The project is estimated to be completed by mid-2022 costing about USD 800 million.
Just in 2019, Velana International Airport has handled 4.8 million passengers, 54,000 flight movements, and 64,649t of cargo. VIA is the hub for the national airline Maldivian and the largest seaplane operator in the world, Trans Maldivian Airways.
As of April 2021, VIA is handling 24 international scheduled flight operations along with 7 international charter flight operations to the Maldives with the top ten airlines having operated 3,540 flights carrying over 264, 641 amidst the global shut down in air travel due to the COVID19.