Final decision on Air Malta-Alitalia deal in the near future Tourism Minister –
A final decision on the Air Malta-Alitalia deal will be taken in the near future, Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said yesterday, as an extension requested by the government has reached its end.
Back in August this newspaper had reported that the government had asked Alitalia to extend the negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding signed earlier this year till the end of September.
Asked whether an agreement had been reached seeing that September is all but over, Dr Zammit Lewis was cautious but said a final decision would be taken soon.
“My position on Air Malta and Alitalia remains the same – we will either come to an agreement that is advantageous to Air Malta and the tourism industry, in which case the government will be satisfied, or we will not, in which case the deal will be off.”
Pressed for a timeline, Dr Zammit Lewis said he agreed that decisions needed to be taken. “In fairness work is carried out every single day, even if we do not announce every detail in the press. Surely, we will be taking a final decision in the near future. And it will be communicated to the public, just like the rest of this process has been. I am committed to keep the whole process transparent, whatever the outcome. ”
The Tourism Minister added that a lot of progress had been made with regard to the workers. “We have guaranteed their jobs. If reforms are carried out they will know what will be happening and we will be working with them. No one had addressed this issue head-on, like we’re doing.”
“I am committed to keep the whole process transparent, whatever the outcome ”
Dr Zammit Lewis was also asked to react to recent press reports, including one that said that Alitalia has no money to invest in the Maltese national airline. “There were also reports about the Alitalia strike. Every big airline has experienced strikes. Yes, Alitalia has its challenges. It is in the red but it is also investing. Alitalia is taking care of its own situation and we are following closely but also seeing what’s in the deal for us. If things are agreeable we will reach a deal. If not we will say no and the decision will be communicated (to the public).”
The ailing Air Malta announced that it had reached a preliminary agreement with Alitalia back in April but the news was soon marred by comments passed by the Italian airline’s president, Luca di Montezemolo, who said Air Malta was a ‘sub-zero risk’ operation which would not cost Alitalia one euro.
Since then it has also been revealed that Alitalia is losing around half a million euro a day and its operations were hampered by a number of workers’ strikes.
But it seems that the future is not all black for the Italian airline as, according to some reports, the company is managing a turnaround under the direction of Etihad. After the UAE-based giant acquired a 49% stake in Alitalia in 2015 the Italian airline has introduced new routes and enhanced the passenger experience, both in the air and on the ground.
Air Malta has been in restructuring since 2012. While it has managed to reduce its operational losses it has not reached its March 2016 deadline to reach break-even point. The government has already agreed in principle to absorb the airline’s debts – reportedly around €60 million – before an agreement is signed with Alitalia.
The airline’s workforce will also be reduced but the government has promised that no workers will be made redundant. In fact they will either be employed elsewhere in the public sector or be offered voluntary redundancy schemes.
It was recently reported that Air Malta could operate some of Alitalia’s southern routes as well as new routes to North Africa and the Middle East. In doing so it would be strengthening Etihad’s Mediterranean network.
“If things are agreeable we will reach a deal ”