Air Maldives is to become a new Airbus Industrie A310 operator in early 1998, with a leased aircraft on which it has an option to buy, it was announced at the show yesterday.

The carrier also plans to launch an amphibious air taxi service.

Pilots, mechanics and cabin crew from Air Maldives have already begun training for new A310 services, which eventually will be the first international sectors operated with an all-Maldivian crew.

Powered by Pratt & Whitney JT9D-7R4 engines, the aircraft will seat 24 passengers in first class and 197 in economy.

"Air travel is the key to tourism and commerce, especially for island nations and within Asia, and we look forward to playing our part in the growth of the Maldives," says Airbus managing director Jean Pierson.

Air Maldives managing director Araffin Omar hints that the airline will soon be looking for a second aircraft of the same type.

"There are definitely oppor-tunities for growth in the network with the growth of the tourist infrastructure," he says.

"We will look for a build-up in the fleet, with an aircraft of the same type because of the economies of scale."

The A310 and the slightly larger A300-600 are in wide-spread use with airlines in the Middle East and Indian sub-continent.

Meanwhile, Air Maldives is planning to complement its land-based domestic operations with an amphibious air taxi operation.

Omar says it makes sense for an island state which he anticipates an initial requirement for two - type unspecified - aircraft.

Source: Flight Daily News