Manta Air is revolutionizing the domestic airline industry in Maldives. After members of Maldives’ hospitality industry weren’t seeing the quality expected from the domestic aviation options, some of its shareholders decided to create their own carrier to provide the services that were previously lacking. Manta Air’s business model is uniquely informed by their own experience of what the hospitality industry requires to succeed. By introducing innovations such as published schedules for air transfer service in Maldives and spacious aircraft that puts customer satisfaction above all else, Manta Air offers a five-star travel experience for its customers.
Manta Air started its commercial operation in February 2019. How did the airline get its start?
Manta Air came into existence because of our background in hospitality here in Maldives. As hoteliers, over the decades, and particularly in the past few years, we have had major problems with the transfer of passengers to hotels to the degree that our business was in danger of failing. We worked hard with the existing airline operators to improve the services and establish a more customer-oriented service with the airlines. This didn’t really work out as we have expected so we decided it was time to start our own airline to fix the issues and to provide better end-to-end service for our guests. We have the knowledge of what needs fixing from our experiences as hoteliers and by having our own airline, we are able to provide the service which was lacking before – a seamless air travel experience in the Maldives.
How do the unique details of the Manta Air fleet reflect the personality of the company and your approach to customer service?
We use ATR 72-600 aircraft that are meant to have 72 seats in the aircraft. From the commercial point of view, we should have maintained 72 seats. However, we reduced the seats to 64, customized the cabin to provide the best comfort with additional legroom for our passengers. We are also providing two cabin classes, comfort and sapphire, each tailor-made uniquely for the need of our passengers travelling across the blue. For us, it’s not about the last penny we can squeeze out of the aircraft by having 72 seats but it’s about the customer experience. We assure our passengers that the tropical way to fly will always be in comfort and in luxury.
What are the main challenges that Manta Air faces and how are you innovating to overcome those challenges?
In terms of operations, our main challenge is to get the technical expertise onboard. We especially need pilots and cabin crew, and it is hard to attract the right people. We are working on a human resources strategy to build the human capacity of the industry. We want to provide an opportunity for youth to come in and get engage and start a career in aviation. We provide training opportunities for staff locally and abroad. We have collaborated with popular training institutes to support us to conduct required skills training programs in different technical and operational areas.
In terms of the industry, one major challenge is the reliable operation of the airlines. At Manta Air, we have started with published transfer schedules. Tourists who come for a holiday in Maldives don’t have to wait to know their domestic transfer timings with us. The general norm here in Maldives is the guests didn’t know the domestic flight schedule until they reached Malé. This is not what the tourists are used to experiencing at home and it is a big issue for them. At Manta Air, with our pre-published scheduled operation, we have fully resolved this issue and now the hotels can send the transfer confirmation along with the hotel booking confirmations. As a comprehensive hospitality company, we’re able to integrate this effectively into our operation and become a more reliable airline.
Gulf countries are opening more and more resorts in Maldives. Why should they partner with you instead of other airlines to transfer guests to their resorts?
We are an investor in the hotel industry too and we understand the pain points of the hoteliers when it comes to domestic transfers. We look at the business from both the airline and the hotelier lens and that is unique. Within a very short period of time, we have proven that our approach is preferred by hoteliers and they have started to enjoy our services. And no other domestic airline in the Maldives is currently providing a six-month pre-published schedule. Tourists visiting Maldives care about this and we have solved it. The certainty and reliability of our airline is the key to why we are the best partner.
How does Manta Air ensure safety?
The aviation industry in Maldives is quite strong in terms of safety and security. We have given special attention to safety. We have set up separate, dedicated safety and quality departments to ensure that we meet all operational and safety standards and comply with the regulations. Our teams are experts in the field and come with years of experience. We have also signed Global Maintenance Agreement (GMA) with the aircraft supplier ATR for fleet repairs, overhaul and propeller maintenance. We have a fully implemented safety management system which has been audited. We have also invested in Centrik, a cloud-based leading management system used widely in the aviation industry. Centrik is integral for our operation to ensure safety, as it helps us to effectively manage in real time the risks and safety and compliance audits with information available at fingertips. All these factors combine to ensure we have a successful record of safety of our carrier. We are not going to compromise on the safety and quality of the airline.
Can you tell us some background on the seaplanes?
We are currently in the process of putting up all required to start the seaplane operation. We already have the aircraft in Canada waiting for us to ferry to Maldives. We are going to use DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft which is proven in the Maldives environment. Our main seaplane base is developed in Dhaalu and nearing completion and we are also doing the construction of a temporary seaplane terminal and docks at Velana International Airport until the main common terminal is ready for use. Our target is to start the service by July this year.
Where do you see the most opportunity to grow as a new airline company? How do you see Gulf investors collaborating with you?
If Gulf investors partner with Manta Air to fly their passengers to Maldives, we’ll make sure they can transfer their guests to their resorts without any difficulty. This is the key to success for any tourist establishment in Maldives. The first and last impression is with the airline and this is beyond the hotel’s control. They need a carrier they can trust to be reliable and match the service level of the hotelier with the same ambition to provide a unique experience for its customers.
Where do you see Manta Air in the next five years?
We will continue to expand domestic aviation. Our focus is to expand the domestic and seaplane operations to capture a bigger market share. Seaplane growth is limited in the domestic sector. The market itself won’t expand beyond the current level. There is a monopoly in the seaplane market in Maldives, but we and others are beginning to enter the market and compete. This is healthy for the market and means that the standard of service will improve as each operator focuses on sustaining their business and enhancing customer service. Our objective is to raise the bar, and I think we’re doing that.
Do you have a final message to readers of Gulf News?
The Gulf market is a very important market for Maldives. Middle Eastern clients travel during our summer period, which is our lowest period in terms of occupancy. The Gulf market is quite important for us in terms of balancing seasonal deviation. We are a five-star airline offering a top-shelf operation, and we invite Gulf companies to come onboard to experience your tropical way to fly.