The Malta Independent 23 September 2017, Saturday

Things come in threes for Air Malta

Thursday, 15 December 2016, 09:10 Last update: about 10 months ago

Even though it was coated with treacle and painted as a development, Air Malta's retreat from Frankfurt, one of the first routes opened by the airline in the 1970s was welcomed by shock and alarm.

The airline has since denied with utmost solemnity a report on The Times that this retreat was a sop to placate Alitalia and maybe get it to interest itself anew in buying a share in Air Malta.

The airline's board pointed out that aircraft capacity is a finite resource and flight schedules are changed and tweaked every season to take advantage of new opportunities, maximise resources and increase efficiency.

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Network decisions for the summer 2017 flight schedule were taken independently of any strategic partnership discussions with Alitalia. The board added that it is a known fact that the Frankfurt route was not performing that well.

Frequencies on this route had already been reduced from daily to four weekly last summer, well before any negotiations with Alitalia had started. Over the past years other airport hubs including Munich, on which coincidentally Air Malta is increasing frequencies from July 2017 with up to double daily, have increased their connectivity network.

Air Malta's summer 2017 schedule will see the airline increase frequencies on a number of key popular routes including Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, Rome, Catania, Lyon, Palermo, Prague and Moscow.

The airline will operate with up to double daily flights in peak summer to Munich, Rome and Catania.

Coming hot on the heels of this report came another on our sister Sunday paper last Sunday which said that there will be no more State aid for Air Malta, according to the European Commission.

European Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said in unequivocal terms last week that, "In view of the previous restructuring aid to Air Malta approved in 2012, the airline is currently not eligible to receive any further rescue or restructuring aid" - in line with the EU's 'one time, last time' principle when it comes to state aid.

The Commission is finding itself under pressure from MEPs from Cyprus who are vigilant to see that Air Malta does not get what Air Cyprus did not get and which led to that airline's closure.

In other words, Air Malta is now in a "sink or swim" position and has to find such resources it may need inside its own operation, without recourse to government aid.

It was meant to make only a €6m deficit last year (but then we do not know the latest figures) so it must make do with more and more cuts so as to balance the books.

Obviously, when it cuts a hallowed route such as the Frankfurt one, many are shocked and fear the worst. As the airline said, at a time of reduced planes it has to operate a reduced route, much as it would have liked to do otherwise.

On top of this (because things come in threes, it seems) Air Malta had a plane out for repairs and it leased a plane from Mistral Air, an airline set up by comic actor Bud Spencer and now owned by Poste Italiane and photos of the leased plane were the rage on the social media.

Maybe it is now too late to do anything, but if there is any hope, Air Malta must reduce staff (it still has a bloated staff complement, considered proportionately; it must operate a stricter turnaround timetable to get the most out of its planes; and it must outsource what does not belong to its core business. 
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