Maldives Seaplanes

Updated: 2023-11-06T08:19:21.500Z
Maldives Seaplanes

The Maldives is more than 99% water with individual islands scattered across 90,000 square kilometres. Boats have been the standard transport for centuries, but they're slow and not always ideal for weary travellers.

Enter the seaplane, or for you aviation aficionados, the float plane.

What is a seaplane? It's exactly what it sounds like - a plane that takes off from and lands on water. Instead of tyres it has special floats like a boat hull. These planes usually carry up to 15 passengers.

The Maldives has the largest fleet of seaplanes in the world!

What You Need to Know

The most important thing to be aware of is that seaplanes only fly during daylight!

We recommend checking that your international flight will arrive by 3pm Malé time at the latest to avoid disappointment. If you do arrive after dark you'll either need to rely on a speedboat transfer or spend the night at Hulhumale to catch a flight in the morning. The closest hotel is the NB Grand.

Don't worry though - you can visit the Maldives without a seaplane transfer.

Baggage allowance may be less than your international flight. The standard seaplane allowance is 25kg including 20kg for checked luggage and 5kg for hand luggage. Any additional weight is chargeable - unless included with a premium service by your resort - and in rare cases may need to be sent on a later flight depending on flight capacity.

Seaplane Operators

Trans-Maldivian Airways (TMA)

There are currently two seaplane operators in the Maldives. Trans-Maldivian Airways (TMA) and relative newcomer Manta Air. The largest is TMA which now has 61 planes. Some may remember Maldivian Air Taxi, which has since merged with TMA.

Resorts typically work with a single operator so you won't be able to choose a specific seaplane yourself, but don't worry, there are far more similarities than differences between them.

The differences are primarily in the seaplane terminals rather than the planes themselves, with better facilities offered by more expensive resorts.

A basic service may only include a simple waiting area whereas a premium service could include resort-exclusive lounges with comfortable seating and complimentary food and drink. Manta Air offers a lounge you can purchase entry to even if not included by your resort.

Is a Seaplane Transfer Worth It?

View from a seaplane

We go into more detail in seaplane vs speed boat but in short, yes if you are staying outside the Kaafu Atoll (which includes North Malé and South Malé atolls). Within the Malé area a speed boat is faster and easier.

The surrounding regions are ideal with beautiful 20-60 minute flights which give you an incredible birds-eye view over the Maldives. For the most remote areas of the Maldives it is necessary to take a domestic transfer to a nearby airport followed by a boat transfer to your resort.

It's still possible to experience a seaplane in the Maldives even if you don't take a transfer to your resort. At least one seaplane operator offers quick 10-minute photo tours around the Malé region.

How Long Does a Seaplane Transfer Take?

Transfer times depend which atoll your resort is located in.

Approximate flight times from Malé to different atolls in the Maldives:

  • 20-30 minutes
    Vaavu, North Ari / South Ari
  • 30-45 minutes
    Baa, Faafu, Lhaviyani, Meemu, Raa, Dhaalu, Noonu
  • 45-60 minutes
    Thaa, Shaviyani
  • 70-80 minutes
    Haa Alifu / Haa Dhaalu
  • Not available due to distance
    North Huvadhu, South Huvadhu, Gnaviyani, Addu

You'll also have a short wait at the seaport terminal prior to boarding your flight. This can be anywhere from 10 minutes to a couple of hours depending on factors such as when your international flight lands, the seaplane schedule, and prevailing weather. The longer waits are typically associated with poor weather. It's best to see this time as part of the experience where you can enjoy a close up view of the seaplanes and take a moment to relax between your flights.

Are Seaplanes Safe?

View from seaplane pontoon

Yes, seaplanes in the Maldives are safe. The country has the largest seaplane fleet in the world and attracts the most experienced seaplane pilots from around the world.

To verify this we reviewed records from the Maldives Civil Aviation Authority going back to 1994 where the records begin.

According to investigation reports there has never been a fatality arising from a seaplane crash in the Maldives[1]. There was a single event involving a serious injury to the pilots and one passenger which occurred nearly 20 years ago in 2004.

In contrast there are hundreds of seaplane flights happening every day and millions of people have travelled safely on seaplanes in the Maldives.

For the Aviators

Floatplanes in the Maldives are nearly all de Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otters equipped with modern Honeywell avionics and weather radar. Many are 300 series but 400S models - a floatplane optimized version of the standard 400 series[2] - are increasingly common.

The 400s has twin PT6A-34 engines (PT6A-27s in the series 300) with constant speed props. The planes have a wingspan of 65 ft and seat 19 in a standard cabin configuration, though examples in the Maldives more often seat 15 guests + 1 crew, with the rear three seats replaced with additional luggage space.

Typical cruise speed is around 150kt and whilst a regular 400 series has a service ceiling of 25,000 ft most floatplane flights in the Maldives are short flights operated at 2,000-3,000 ft.

Some of the most impressive aviation happens on the "ground" - watching the captain (only the captain) parallel park a floatplane with the throttles is quite the sight to behold.

ATC services in the Maldives are provided by Maldives Airport Company Limited[3]. The control tower is located on Hulhule Island next to Velana International Airport and the main floatplane harbour. Flights can be tracked live on the usual services such as Flightradar24 - lookout for the 8Q- Maldives registration prefix!

To be considered for First Officer position you'll need a valid CPL with ATPL credit and apply for a Maldivian FCL. The bar for a Captain is significantly higher at 3000 ATPL hours including 750 with floats and 500 on type.


How much does a seaplane transfer cost?

It depends on the distance to your resort but typically adds several hundred dollars to your holiday cost. It isn't cheap but it's an amazing experience we think is worth doing.

How do I book a seaplane?

Seaplane transfers are generally handled by your resort - it's unlikely you'll need to have any direct communication with the seaplane operator.

That said, it is also possible to charter a private flight yourself if you're looking for a more exclusive experience. Prices for VIP services start at around $8,000 each way.


[1] Maldives Civil Aviation Authority. Accidents & Incidents, retrieved 2023-11-06
[2] Viking Air. Twin Otter Series 400 Optimized Seaplane, retrieved 2023-03-18
[3] MACL. Maldives Air Navigation Serivces, retrieved 2023-03-18
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