Mega Maldives Airlines set for Saudi flights

Mega Maldives Airlines set for Saudi flights
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Mega Maldives Airlines set for Saudi flights
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Updated 04 March 2014

Mega Maldives Airlines set for Saudi flights

Mega Maldives Airlines set for Saudi flights

With an eye on the ever-growing Gulf and Middle East market, several world carriers are introducing or reintroducing their services to the region.
One of them is Mega Maldives Airlines, which is set to launch its services to Saudi Arabia.
“In fact, we are getting ready and will launch our maiden flights to the Kingdom very soon,” said George Weinmann, CEO of Mega Maldives Airlines.
“We have observed that the interest is very strong during our visit to Saudi Arabia. So, we are very excited about offering our services to the Kingdom,” Weinmann told Arab News in an exclusive interview.
“Jeddah will be our first choice, but we will also hope to provide services to Riyadh, followed by Madinah and possibly Dammam,” said Weinmann, who was here with Mizna Ahmed, director of the airline, to initiate formalities for launching the flights.
The island state’s international airline, which carries the national flag on its aircraft, is initially planning to operate its 6-hour nonstop flights three to four times a week to Saudi Arabia.
The joint venture private company was set up in 2010. It initially focused on Asian markets and served different cities such as Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong,Weinmann said.
He said the Maldives, with 350,000 population, is a renowned tourist destination.
In 2009, as many as 655,000 tourists visited the Maldives. The number rose to 1.29 million last year.
Weinmann recalled how the airline started its operations with just one plane four years ago.
“There were no direct flights from Beijing, Shanghai or Hong Kong. So, we introduced the first nonstop flights to those cities,” said the CEO.
“We focused on the needs of Chinese tour operators, and what they needed in terms of flight schedules and other services and that helped them grow the market tremendously,” he said.
“We now have five flights a week each for Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong and we expect to add more this summer. Now, we are now focusing on the needs of new markets like the Middle East,” he said.
According to Weinmann, the Chinese market for the Maldives has grown from 60,000 tourists in 2009 to 331,000 tourists last year. “This year, we expect the number to grow to maybe even half a million,” he said.
The carrier now has a fleet of four aircraft. Within the next few months two more planes — Boeing 767 and Boeing 757 — will be added, raising the number of aircraft to six.
Explaining the carrier’s choice of B757 aircraft, he said that the decision was made in the context of its superior range performance.
He said: “The Maldives is in the middle of the Indian Ocean from where major markets like Saudi Arabia or China are 6 hours or more away by air. In the Maldives, the nearest alternate (diversion) airport is about an hour away. Smaller aircraft like A320s don’t have a range to cover the six-hour flights. So, you have to fly larger aircraft like the 757. The 757 is designed to fly up to 8 hours so by choosing this aircraft we can enter new markets and develop these markets with very comfortable and very reliable aircraft, and then switch to bigger, wider aircraft as the market grows larger. But people like to have frequency, and the 757 helps us offer more choice without compromising on performance or service.”
Weinmann said: “At present, we are flying to some Chinese destinations, but we see opportunities in new markets. Just like the Chinese market, the globally recognized fast growing and attractive new outbound markets are basically in the Middle East-Gulf region. In the region, we see Saudi Arabia is underserved by international destinations. That is why we have chosen to focus on the Middle East and that is why we are here in Jeddah.”
He said the carrier is also planning to extend its network into Southeast Asia — to Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and other cities in that region as well as to Australia.
He said many Saudi nationals have been visiting the Maldives.
“Last year, about 10,000 Saudis visited the island. In 2009, there were only about 3,000 or so Saudis toured the islands. So the number has grown very fast. We hope to see 15,000 to 20,000 Saudi visitors in the Maldives, and we hope direct flights will support this.” he said.
“Saudi Arabia is not as big a country as China, but we see a lot of opportunities here,” said the CEO.
Weinmann said: “We expect to have very good business coming from the Maldives to Saudi Arabia also. Maldivians like to travel abroad and the Kingdom is expected to be a popular choice. And through our hub in Male, we are very well positioned to connect Southeast Asia and the Kingdom as well.”
He said the air services agreement between the Maldives and Saudi Arabia allows for regular Umrah and Haj flights.
Muhammad Najmi, general manager for Nudra Aviation, owned by Abdul Aziz Gabel, says the company is working with Mega Maldives Airlines to promote the carrier in Saudi Arabia.
Weinmann said Maldivian airlines had been granted access to all the main international airports in Saudi Arabia.
The Maldives Civil Aviation Authority signed the agreement with the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) recently.
Commenting on the opportunities in the Kingdom, Weinmann said: “It is very important to have a strong partner in Saudi Arabia. Any international businessman will tell you that. But in aviation it is more important because of the nature of work we do — it involves international relations and safety. We want to make it sure that everything is really flawless.”
Nudra Aviation has seasoned staff and the ownership provides the relationships and experience to operate smartly. “I think we can make everything to run smooth,” he said.
Weinmann added: “The good news is that there are hundreds of different resorts in the Maldives. There are lots of choices. But we will make sure that some of the best choices become available for Saudi nationals.”
Weinmann said the Maldives is famous because it has the largest seaplane operation in the world.
“A very big percentage of passengers when they arrive at the airport don’t take a boat, they don’t take a taxi, they don’t take a motorcycle or even walk. They go around to the seaplane base at the same airport island and depart by a seaplane and land right at their resort,” said the CEO.
He said: “We have found out that quite a few people get hooked on to the Maldives and they come again and again, partly because it is luxurious, it is wonderful and it also is very private and exclusive. Basically, you are in your own island.”
Weinmann said: “When I first came to Saudi Arabia, we heard a lot of things about the country such as it is hard for foreigners to understand and it is difficult to get things done. However, we had a very good experience.”
Saudi Arabian hospitality needs to be promoted more in the world, he stressed.
Weinmann described Maldives as a very luxurious destination. “We do have best of the best hotels but because it is such a quite big country with about 2,000 islands. It actually has some very affordable hotels as well,” he said.
“We are promoted as a high-end luxury destination but there are plenty of rooms for the average tourist to come and find the destination affordable and attractive,” he said.
Each island of the Maldives is one resort where starred properties exist, but such 5-star, 4-star or 3-star properties exist independently and they don’t mix.
They are completely separate and that segmentation is really wonderful, he said.
Weinmann emphasized on the unique concept of kiddie flight attendants.
“On longer flights sometimes we serve ice cream. Instead of the flight attendants handing out the ice cream, we call for children of 5 to 12 years, if any on board the aircraft, and invite them up in the middle and give them our little uniform — an apron and a name tag. One of the attendants will make an announcement on the PA (public address system). We give them baskets with ice cream and we let them hand out ice creams to passengers,” said the CEO.
“We have staff going with them and we only do it during smooth flights. If there is turbulence we don’t do it. The kids love it, the parents love it and frankly every passenger on board loves it,” said the CEO.
Weinmann said: “After the flight lands and when we are on the ground, if children want to go to the cockpit and take a picture with the captain sitting on the pilot seat, we are happy to do that.”
He added: “In the olden days of aviation, this used to be a common practice but these days not so many airlines do that. So we are trying to bring back travel make it a fun, exotic and romantic experience.”
Weinmann said: “Our point of view is that if you provide a good experience to passengers on board the aircraft with entertainment, smile or interesting activities like kiddie flight attendant it has a much bigger impact on passengers. Se we are trying to bring back that feeling to aviation.”
Mizna Ahmed said: “Maldivians think very highly of Saudi Arabia. They consider the Kingdom as a brotherly country. There are cultural and other reasons why they are very much interested in Saudi Arabia.”
She said: “We are very excited about the visit of Crown Prince Salman, deputy prime minister and minister of defense, to the Maldives.”
The director also said: “As Maldivians, we are very proud to have the crown prince coming over and choosing the Maldives as his preferred destination.
She hoped the crown prince’s visit would result in an increased flow of Saudi investments and further connect the two countries.
Mizna Ahmed said: “I am very excited about the connection between the two countries.”
She said: “We see many wonderful opportunities for both the countries. We have a unique concept of one island one resort. That is the privacy we offer.”