Air Malta outlines ‘airline of the Mediterranean’ plan
Air Malta is pursuing its vision to be “the airline of the Mediterranean” partly to ensure that growth potential is not restricted by the carrying capacity of its home nation's tourism industry, acting chief executive Joseph Galea has indicated.
Speaking to FlightGlobal at the ERA Regional Airline Conference in Vienna on 18 April, Galea noted that Maltese tourism had been "doing well for the past 10 years, with record year after record year".
He adds: "While things are doing so well, there's a limit to how much Air Malta can grow if you still do point-to-point business... If we want to grow Air Malta, we need to carry business which is not dependent on the accommodation capacity of the Maltese islands for tourism."
Toward this end, Air Malta is looking to make its Mediterranean base a hub for connecting traffic. The airline's Tel Aviv and Casablanca routes are "doing very well by coexisting with each other", says Galea. He estimates that 30-40% of passengers on the routes are flying between the Israeli and Moroccan cities via Malta.
In January, Air Malta started a Catania-Vienna service, after insolvent Niki withdrew from that market. Further non-Maltese routes are to join the carrier's network in May when it begins flights to London Southend from Cagliari and Catania.
"We have airports in Sicily, particularly, asking us to do more flights into the Italian mainland: into Rome, into Milan," says Galea. "We're looking at those options at the moment."
In April 2016, Italian flag carrier Alitalia disclosed plans to conduct due diligence with a view to taking a stake in its Maltese counterpart, but the talks were terminated in January 2017, and a strategic partner is not currently being sought for the government-owned Air Malta, says Galea. "At the moment, it's off the agenda."
To safeguard Air Malta's London Heathrow slots as a national asset, the government has deposited them with another airline, Malta Medair, to which the flag carrier pays commercial lease rates for their use under an arm's length transaction. Malta Medair also operates a single aircraft on behalf of Air Malta.
"We are the only airline that connects Heathrow to Malta, and Heathrow for us is a key airport because we send a lot of medical cases to the UK," notes Galea. He highlights links between Maltese and UK hospitals, and identifies a "social need" for the slots to be "operated by an airline that is catering for the local community".
The 12 months ended 31 March were "a very good commercial year" for Air Malta, says Galea. "It's early days to look at the accounts, but we have a good feeling about the end result, which might for the first time in so many years not be a negative result."
He sees the airline as being in a crucial phase at present, given its network expansion and 20% growth in its fleet. "We're actually increasing our flying by about 30%, because we're even using our existing fleet much more aggressively," he says. "It's going to be a crunch year. It will be quite decisive for us."