The Maldives and Sri Lanka have agreed on establishing a framework to facilitate medical evacuation flights between Malé and Colombo, Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Mohamed Ameen has confirmed.

The agreement was reached during a bilateral meeting between Ameen and his Sri Lankan counterpart, Nimal Siripala de Silva, the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation. The ministers engaged in discussions to strengthen relations between their respective countries, emphasising the expeditious approval process for urgent medical evacuation flights.

While Ameen refrained from specifying a commencement date for the medical evacuation flights, Minister de Silva announced that the air ambulance service would initiate operations on 1 March. Sri Lanka will establish all requisite facilities at Katunayake Airport to provide the service, he revealed in a social media post.

Minister de Silva also highlighted that the Maldivian government has decided to redirect patients requiring emergency medical care to Sri Lankan hospitals in the future, citing the superior quality of emergency care in Sri Lanka. This marks a departure from the Maldives’ previous practice of sending patients to India for emergency medical care.

The government had previously announced plans to inaugurate air ambulance services within the country on 1 March. These services, which will employ aircraft to expedite the transportation of patients to healthcare facilities in Malé or other regional hospitals, will be overseen by a specific department in the health ministry.

The government intends to repurpose the De Havilland Canada DHC-8, commonly known as the Dash 8, a turboprop-powered aircraft operated by the national carrier, Maldivian, to provide air ambulance services. Earlier this week, the government also announced plans to recommence helicopter services for medical evacuation purposes.

During previous administrations, inter-island medical evacuations were conducted using two navy helicopters and a Dornier aircraft provided by the Indian government. However, the administration under Mohamed Muizzu has discontinued the use of aircraft provided by India and requested that the Indian government withdraw its military presence in the Maldives.