Velena International Airport on Hulhulé Island in North Malé Atoll, Maldives, is undergoing a major expansion to meet the increasing passenger demand.

The airport, formerly known as Ibrahim Nasir International Airport, is owned by the Government of Maldives and operated by Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL). It handled more than 4.8 million passengers, 54,000 flight movements and 64,649t of cargo in 2019.

Malaysia President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih visited the airport in November 2019 to observe the progress of the expansion project.

The expansion project is planned to cater to the projected passenger growth that is expected to reach 7.3 million by 2030. Scheduled to be completed by mid-2022, the expansion is expected to cost $800m.

Velena airport expansion project details

The Velena airport management is constructing a new 78,000m² international passenger terminal building, which will have the capacity to accommodate up to 7.5 million passengers a year upon its completion in 2022. The building will also feature aero boarding bridges, baggage handling systems, retail spaces, food and beverage outlets, and lounges.

A new 3,400m-long and 60m-wide code-F runway is being built to accommodate wide-body aircraft such as A380. The runway, which is expected to solve the issues related to space and flight delays, initially opened in September 2018 when an Etihad A380 landed at the airport. Located 190m away from the current runway, the new runway is undergoing further renovation and is anticipated to begin commercial operations in 2020. It will be installed with instrument landing systems (ILS) on both sides.

The airport will have a new 37,000m² fuel farm located to the north west side of the airport. Upon its completion in 2020, the fuel farm will have the capacity to hold 45 million litres of Jet A1 fuel, 100,000l of petrol, and one million litres of diesel. A fuel hydrant system is also being installed to increase safety and reduce service time for the airlines.

The expansion project also includes the construction of a 12,000m² cargo terminal complex that will be able to handle 120,000t of freight. Expected to be completed in 2020, the complex will feature an import and export facilities, as well as office spaces.

A new seaplane terminal along with a maintenance facility is being constructed at eastern lagoon area of the Velena International Airport. With a capacity to accommodate 85 seaplanes, the four-storey terminal will have additional features such as arrival lobbies, lounges, office spaces, and extra boarding gates.

The airport expansion project will also include the construction of a new 6,800m² four-storey building with dedicated space for commercially important persons (CIPs) and separate lounges for very important persons (VIPs) and VVIPs. The construction of the building is slated for completion in the second quarter of 2020.

Other developments at the airport

Velena airport opened a new 2,012m² aerodrome and ground aids building in April 2019. The two-storey building is situated north-west part of the airport. It serves as a monitoring station for apron high mast floodlighting system, new runway airfield ground lighting, and ILS.

A new mobile application of the airport and a website of MACL was launched to enhance the passenger experience.

The airport was also installed with additional cameras to support the screening process to tackle the 2019 coronavirus outbreak.

Funding for the airport expansion project

The government secured a $100m loan from the Saudi Fund for Development to finance the development of the new passenger terminal in October 2018.

OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) is providing a $50m loan for the project.

A formal loan agreement was signed with Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD) to support the airport expansion in October 2017. Kuwait Fund is also supporting the project.

Contractors involved in Velena International Airport expansion

MACL awarded a design and build contract to Saudi Binladin Group for the new airport terminal.

Beijing Urban Construction Group is carrying out the construction of the new runway at the airport. Landrum & Brown (L&B) was appointed as the lead consultant for the airport’s runway and seaplane terminal studies.

ELS International received a contract from Saudi Binladin Group to execute piling works of the expansion project. Setec won a contract to provide building information modelling (BIM) design, from concept stage to final design of the project.

Surbana Jurong is the overall project management consultant for the expansion project including airside redevelopment and passenger terminal expansion. The company is also responsible for overseeing the construction works and supporting the design review process.

History of Velena airport

Velena International Airport started its operations in October 1960 with the landing of a Royal New Zealand Air Force transport aircraft. It welcomed the first commercial flight operated by Air Ceylon on its slotted steel runway in April 1962.

The airport underwent infrastructure improvements, including the construction of an asphalt runway in 1964. It was officially opened as the international airport in November 1981.