The government has formalised an investment appraisal agreement with NV Besix SA, a leading construction company based in Belgium, for the proposed development of an international airport on Villingili Island, Gaafu Alifu Atoll. The agreement was signed on Thursday during an official visit by President Mohamed Muizzu to Villingili Island.

NV Besix SA, a company with a robust financial standing, reported a revenue of US$3.8 billion in 2020 and employs over 12,000 individuals. The agreement aims to evaluate the feasibility of the investor’s proposal to develop an airport on Villingili Island.

The proposed project, which includes the development of an airport and an integrated tourism zone in its vicinity, is estimated to cost US$750 million, according to local media reports. The President’s Office has confirmed plans to develop an international airport on Villingili Island.

This development follows the recent awarding of a US$600 million project to Thailand’s Pan Pacific Company Ltd. for developing an international airport on Thinadhoo Island, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll. However, local media have raised concerns about the financial capability of the Thailand-based company to execute a project of such magnitude.

In light of these concerns, the Ministry of Construction and Infrastructure issued a statement clarifying the nature of the agreement. The Ministry emphasised that the current agreement is a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), and the formal project contract will be signed later, following a thorough assessment of the contractor’s financial situation. This clarification comes after the government’s earlier announcement that the agreement had been signed and awarded.

The Ministry’s statement further elaborated, “The contract agreement will be formalised only after a comprehensive evaluation of the proposals submitted by contractors, their financial capabilities, and other prerequisites, all within the framework of the constitution and laws of the Maldives.”

While local media reports suggest that NV Besix SA was contracted to complete the investment appraisal for the project, the President’s Office clarified that the agreement was to contract the development of the airport. As part of the Memorandum of Understanding, a tourism development project would be initiated alongside the development of the Villingili International Airport project, according to the President’s Office, which would include the development of an integrated tourism zone.

The development of an airport on Villingili Island will increase the number of airports in Huvadhu Atoll—the largest geographical atoll in the world, administratively divided between Gaafu Alifu and Gaafu Dhaalu Atolls—to six. With the completion of the Thinadhoo International Airport, Huvadhu Atoll will boast two international airports.