What’s next for the airlines in the Maldives through COVID-19?
The majority of all passengers flying with airlines in the Maldives are tourists. As the world came to shut with the impact of COVID-19, the normal airline operations came to a halt almost entirely within the country.
With the impact of COVID-19, ’Villa Air FlyMe’, ’Manta Air’, and ’Trans Maldivian Airways’ operations all came to a halt with very limited flights operated in the months that followed. Employees were faced with pay reductions and TMA has further laid off over 400 employees. National airline ’Maldivian’ remained operational mainly carrying out repatriation and cargo flights. The airline also carried out many COVID-19 related flights carrying passengers who were positive for the virus however the airline too was operating 90% fewer flights than they were before due to which the national airline’s employees too were faced with pay reductions. As airlines are finding ways to mitigate costs, more employees are at risk of losing their jobs in the near future. There wouldn’t be any further jobs available in the market within the airlines for those who lost their jobs and for those who have recently completed their studies and are looking to start their careers.
Maldivian border was lifted on July 15th however the number of tourist arrivals is so far not that high. Experts are predicting to see more arrivals towards the end of the year. For many, traveling in the next few months would be difficult due to the many restrictions and rules applied for travelers in and out of their respective country and through transits, especially for those arriving from further destinations. In the global airline industry, domestic passenger travel is much higher than that for international travel and the majority prefers to travel yet on shorter routes. One of the reasons why IATA is expecting air travel to return to take a year longer than expected before is due to ‘weak consumer confidence’. While there’s a demand for visiting friends and relatives as well as leisure travel, consumer confidence is weak over concerns of job security and rising unemployment. This is a crucial reason for most to think twice before planning to go on a holiday to the Maldives.
Today IATA is reporting that the global passenger traffic (revenue passenger kilometers or RPKs) will not return to pre-COVID-19 levels until 2024. It was first predicted to return to the same levels by 2023. If the recovery in the Maldives is delayed heavily it’ll have a bad impact on the airlines. Even though aircraft are not operating it would still be a heavy cost for airlines to maintain their aircraft in airworthy conditions. Passenger airlines globally-focused more on cargo transportation as passenger flights reduced. ’Maldivian’ continued cargo flights till today using mainly their Airbus A320 and A321, operating flights to various international destinations. The Dash-8’s too were used on flights to India and Sri Lanka however the Dash-8’s are primarily used for operations within the Maldives. ’Manta Air’ had plans to operate the DHC6 Twin Otter in wheel-based configuration. If the passenger numbers are less the airline can benefit with lower operating costs by using the Twin Otter instead of the larger ATR 72-600. With the floats removed it would give the Twin Otter a very good performance characteristics and can fly faster than on float configuration. ’Manta Air’ and ’FlyMe’ can possibly jump into cargo operations using their ATR’s however they would be limited only to destinations nearby. ’Fits Air’ from neighboring Sri Lanka has been operating using its ATR on cargo flights from Sri Lanka to the Maldives and to destinations in India. ’Spice Jet’ operated cargo flights using their Dash-8 Q400’s to both Male’ and Gan from India. The cargo airline market will be competitive to enter even to operate within the region as Sri Lankan Airlines, Fits Air, Spice Jet, Turkish Airlines and more are operating the same flights.
The aviation industry was among the industries growing rapidly in the country until now. If the recovery is further delayed heavily it can be difficult for airlines to even remain in operational condition. Many airlines elsewhere have filled for bankruptcy leaving thousands unemployed. Even the most dominant airlines too are laying off employees in a bid to remain operational without suffering a major loss. Only time can tell what’s waiting next for the aviation industry.