The Malta Independent 19 April 2019, Friday

Up and away

Thursday, 28 March 2019, 10:33 Last update: about 22 days ago

The Air Malta results, unveiled last weekend, are good news, without ifs and without buts.

Our national airline has been so many times close to being closed down, running up huge losses that many of us must have given up on it. It is often said the national airline is essential for our tourism so it is essentially crucial not just to keep it alive and floating but also in good health.

Now that it got its financial in order, it is essential for the airline to build on what it has achieved.

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It would seem the airline obtained its impressive results from three sources:

-         Diversification and increase in routes. The airline has taken a considerable risk in opening up new routes and new countries. It must not fall into despondency if one or more routes turn out to under-deliver. There are, in any case, more routes and more destinations to be tested. It is unfortunate that any help the airline is given to market a new destination may be described as state air and thus forbidden, with the airline having to fork out all the outlays.

-         Consolidation and cutting waste. The airline is moving to new aircraft that are less expensive to run, and that offer a better configuration and ease for the passengers. The airline is also utilizing its aircraft more, generating in the meantime more revenue (but also grumbles from the aircrew).

-         The airline has also moved away from its former principle of keeping its revenue strictly from flying and is now moving to add income through additional revenue such as (this will be announced in the coming days) better and upmarket food and beverages, a revamped business class, etc. There are more inroads to be made here, even if the airline does not go the way of some low cost carriers and hold lotteries during the flight.

There are then other areas that can be considered.

-         Pricing. Up to quite recently, the airline's prices used to be way above those of the competition. There have been some welcome innovations in this regard but the airline may have been finding it quite difficult to break down a perception bred from years and years of high prices.

-         Social burden. Although less now than it used to be in other times, the airline still is burdened by the social cost of being the national airline. In other times, it used to carry the sick at reduced prices, give all MPs, past and present, free rides, and so on. Unfortunately, it was also used especially at election time, to employ people who had been specially recommended by this or that politician.

-         Lack of clear and forward-looking policies. Given its close relations with successive governments, who were many times not known for clear and far-sighted thoughts, the airline has suffered much stop-start hiccups in its recent history that it can well do without.

As the airline's chairman, Dr Charles Mangion, said at the presentation of the results: "apart from the well-intended efforts of the management and the shareholder, ie the Government, we need the commitment of our employees, be they cockpit, cabin crew or Administration and Engineering. They can make or break the company but as already stated, they have an obligation towards the people of Malta that have supported them during these 45 years. We cannot abdicate from such responsibility. The majority of the employees do understand this and are committed. I appeal to their union representatives to take into account the well-being of the company whenever they put forwards their claims. "


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