When you land at Male International Airport in the Maldives on a passenger jet your journey is only just beginning, as access to the islands is then onwards by boat, or by sea plane.
In general The Maldivian Air Taxi Company will be your most likely provider if you are travelling onwards to one of more than 30 resorts. These sea planes take off and land just a few minutes away from the main airport, and the journey is by minibus to where the air terminal awaits you and is quite an experience in itself. There are also blue and white sea planes called The Trans Maldivian Airways who fly to some other islands.
A bustling humid and rather noisy departure lounge affords views out to where 4 or 5 sea planes are on stand. One takes off in the distance and you can hear the engine noise of another on approach. It is quite chaotic with a board showing departure times, but somehow you always seem to end up on the correct plane at the correct time, as if you miss the call a member of staff will locate you and your luggage to ensure a quick onward departure. My advice here is to buy some water on the plane before you land, or better still stock up in Boots,or an airline shop before you fly, as nothing prepares you for the humidity, and although there is a place to purchase drinks it is easier to have your own.
The Maldivian Air Taxi Company has 21 DeHavilland Twin Otter Aircraft and these are made in Canada. Coloured red and white these planes are highly thought of, and many pilots dream of securing a job flying these as they travel over some of the most beautiful islands in the world. They take about 10 passengers so you really feel like you are being treated to something unique.
Each new plane has been flown half way round the world from Canada, as it is cheaper to do this than to assemble the parts and to build them locally. The only thing which is container shipped are the floats ( the sea landing gear), which are not needed as the planes have to stop and land on several runways in different locations to refuel before arriving in Male. Not only this but in the past they had to be flown back there for maintenance, which was quite a trip in itself, and each pilot took this assignment many times during the time he or she was employed.
These journeys could be harrowing at times and eventful. One flight just after 11th September 2001 from Canada to the Maldives was scheduled to depart east from Calgary. However due to the tragic events of that day it was decided to go west, and due to increased security they were not permitted to re-enter American airspace after take off. When they contacted Russian Air Traffic Control they were forced to fly down the Bearing Strait at 18000 feet. This is much higher than the plane normally flies and oxygen masks were required. After landing in Japan they left for Taipei, but they were engulfed in a typhoon and it took over 3 hours to refuel the plane. The rest of the journey was less eventful but the pilots were shattered!
Nowadays the planes are serviced locally at a local base.
Boarding the seaplane is just a question of stepping inside as the plane gently rolls on the water. The excitement is something which immediately takes away your feelings of exhaustion from the long flight. Take off is a sweep round the bay and a sharp incline, and soon you are flying over myriads of turquoise islands. The views are breathtaking and you can see for miles into the distance. Here you can not only see islands which have been developed but also some which are just forming.
Landing is also spectacular as the floats skim the surface landing at wooden decks just off shore of the island of your destination. Then a small boat takes you onto the jetty.
The plane is noisy on board and this is something I am used to as the plane is the same as that used to land on Barra in the Outer Hebrides where the plane lands on the beach-a landing I am especially fond of. However you do have a noisy 50 minutes before this as the plane chugs over the route from Glasgow.
Some passengers do find it too noisy so if you have any of those noise reduction ear plugs it can help.
Turbulence depends on the weather conditions and the wind, and it can be mild to severe, but the pilots try to avoid any patches they can see from the cloud formations. Many people imagine the Maldives to be a calm place, but actually the wind can be quite a feature in the afternoons at certain times of the year. Flying through the monsoon season is challenging, and offers excellent career experiences for the pilots.
In the 7 Atolls, or groups of islands, there are many challenging landings where pilots must ensure they do not come in too steeply over the corals.
Expect to see your pilot flying barefoot, and he or she could well be Australian or from a country outside the Maldives as many are attracted by the lifestyle.
Most of the cost of the flight will be included in your holiday booking, but in general islands reached by sea plane carry a premium over those reached by speed boat of an average of £100 each, but this varies on the route as some islands are 80 nautical miles away and some only 3 but the average is about 30.
I think the thrill of this trip cannot be underestimated. It really is an experience and even when on the islands you are treated to the arrival and departure of seaplanes on a daily basis as they skim the water, in front of your deck chair or the shade of your coconut tree!
The airline prides itself on high safety standards, and many of the pilots are very ambitious and use it as a learning base before going on to fly in Alaska and Antarctica.
I think the views are stunning and certainly part of the lasting memories of a Maldivian holiday.
Nervous flyers may find it daunting, but the speed boat transfers to some of the islands can be exhilarating if not terrifying, especially in rough seas.
No for me it is a wonderful opportunity to gain a bird's eye view of a chain of islands which from the air look absolutely breathtaking.
Summary: A wonderful part of any holiday to the Maldives.