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.

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

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."

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