Maldives slow to reopen airports following tsunamis

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Hulule Airport outside the Maldives capital of Male has reopened but its navigational aids are not serviceable and three smaller airports in the Indian Ocean island chain remain closed following yesterday’s deadly tsunamis.

Maldives was one of the hardest hit countries, with two-thirds of Male flooded and the status of outer island where thousands of tourists are vacationing unknown because communication links have been severed.

Damage to aircraft, however, appears to be minimal. Director general of the Maldives Civil Aviation Department Mahmood Razee says only two floatplanes, one operated by domestic operator Maldivian Air Taxi and the other by Trans Maldivian Airways, have sustained major damage.

Razee says the Maldives’ only international airport, Hulule, reopened to inbound flights this morning but may have to closed again this evening because its non-directional beacon (NDB) remains out of service.

“At the moment we’ve reopened the airport for day operations. Some navaids have problems,” he tells ATI from Male. “Depending on if we can make the NDB operational, we will determine later if we can take flights tonight.”

Razee adds the airport’s VOR, ILS and localizer are also out of service and these will not be fixed for at least several days.

Hulule Airport first closed at 930am yesterday, when the tsunamis hit, washing away buildings on the coast line and hitting some areas with as much as 1.2m of water. The airport reopened at 6pm but only for outgoing flights. Inbound flights were accepted from 6am today.

Hulule Airport is located on a small island a short boat ride away from Male.

Most international airlines servicing the Maldives are preparing to resume services today and some are planning to operate extra flights to evacuate tourists. Scheduled domestic flights, however, are not expected to resume for several days, says Razee.

He explains the operational centres of the four domestic airlines in the country have been damaged, forcing the carriers to suspend scheduled flights. Also three of Maldives’ other four airports have not yet reopened.

Razee says only Gan airport in the southern Maldives is not damaged. He says the airport in Kadhdoo remains flooded and cannot be reopened until the water level recedes. He says the Maldives Civil Aviation Department has not yet been able to contact the airports in Hanimadhoo and Kaadedhoo so the damage at these airports is unknown.

The rest of the country is served by floatplanes. He says Maldivian Air Taxi and Trans Maldivian Airways are operating some humanitarian flights and some special services to evacuate tourists from outer island, but their regular schedules will likely not resume for a week.

Maldivian Air Taxi operates a fleet of 13 de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otters and Trans Maldivian operates 11 Twin Otters, according to AvSoft’s ACAS database. Razee says one aircraft from each operator has sustained major damage but the others are serviceable or have only minor damage to their floats.

The other two domestic airlines in the Maldives are Air Equator and Island Aviation Services. Razee says Air Equator operates one Fairchild F 27 and Island Aviation operates one Dornier 228s and one Bombardier Dash 8. He says all these aircraft are serviceable.