Maldives-based Manta Air to connect India to Dhaalu from March 1

The airline took to international skies on the morning of February 16 from Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport to Dhaalu Airport in Maldives.

February 17, 2024 01:11 pm | Updated 02:24 pm IST

Manta Air’s maident flight from India amid the India-Maldives spat

Manta Air’s maident flight from India amid the India-Maldives spat | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Maldivian airline Manta Air is set to launch its commercial operations into India from March 01. The airline took to international skies on the morning of February 16, for the first time since it commenced commercial operations in 2019, with a non-commercial flight from Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport to Dhaalu Airport in Maldives. The flight was welcomed with the sound of BoduBeru, the heart of traditional Maldivian music.

This comes at a time when the Maldives is walking a diplomatic tightrope with India. However, according to Mohamed Khaleel, the chief executive officer of the airline and Dhaalu Airport, it was just a blip and there is no real effect on the arrival numbers.”

There was no challenges in terms of documentation and business, Ahmed Maumoon, the airline’s deputy CEO seconded. However, he expressed challenges in terms of pushing the market amid the ongoing tension.

With this 3.5 hours long flight, the airline aims to offer seamless direct connectivity to Dhaalu Atoll - a part of Maldives that has largely been hidden owing to logistical challenges for tourists. 

Tourists could not travel to this part of Maldives as a transition from Male would add a significant extra cost, travel time which can go up to about a day owing to limited frequency of seaplanes and lack of awareness, Mr. Khaleel explained. With the expansion of Dhaalu Airport and abundance of properties present, the group is looking to attract more tourists here.

The airline has already opened bookings on its website for its first commercial flight on March 01. “We have already received 20 bookings and expect more in the coming days,” Mr Maumoon said.

While Bengaluru marks Manta’s first international destination and first destination in India, in which it will fly on its 64-seater ATR 72-600 aircraft with dual configuration - about 16 premium or Sapphire class seats and others economy, that is not all. 

Work is underway for the airline to fastly expand into other Indian cities. It has already received queries from Chennai and Cochin, while it also aims to start direct operations from Mumbai and Delhi in the near future. 

The airline is set to add two Airbus A321s to its existing fleet of three ATR 72-600s and 20 seaplanes in the next two years to be able to carry these operations, Mr Maumoon revealed. For this, a whopping $20 million is being invested in the expansion of Dhaalu Airport. “We are increasing both the arrival and departure sides of the airport by 30% each and expanding our runway from the current 1,800 meters to 2,200 meters to accommodate A320s, A321s and other aircraft of that size by December 2025,” said Mr. Maumoon. 

Manta Air currently has three ATR-72 600s and 20 seaplanes. The airport currently sees 10 domestic flights daily and three international flights per week. 

In fact, the airport expects other international carriers also flying in. From India particularly, the airport authority is in talks with AIX Connect ( former AirAsia India), Mr Khaleel said, while a partnership with Indigo is also on the cards to cater to larger demand from various parts of India. 

Post-pandemic, Maldives has seen a huge spike in travel demand, especially from India and particularly in the honeymoon and family market segments. Underscoring the dearth of direct flights between India and Maldives, Mr. Khaleel said, “we haven’t exploited the full potential.”

He also does not see the rift to impact travel in the longer run. “Lakshadweep is not going to be a competing destination, but a complementary destination,” he added. 

Disclaimer: The reporter is on an official trip to Maldives at the invitation of Manta Air

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