The Malta Independent 8 December 2021, Wednesday

Editorial: Death by a thousand cuts

Friday, 30 December 2016, 12:46 Last update: about 6 years ago

First it was stopping the Frankfurt route, one of the first and for many years Air Malta's flagship route.

Now it is the Manchester route.

Is Air Malta facing death by a thousand cuts?

In both cases, both the airline and the Tourism Minister, replied the decisions have been taken in full knowledge of the economic realities of both routes.

With regards to the Manchester route, for instance, there had been times in the recent past when this had been reduced to three flights a week. Then it was pushed up to a higher frequency even when the Manchester airport is also served both by Ryanair and by easyJet. The airline said it was losing considerable sums of money on the route and thus it had to go.

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In a statement some days back, the airline had said that as an airline, operating in a cutthroat environment, Air Malta must continually strive to achieve operational efficiency and maximise opportunities by operating the best conveniently timed flight schedule and network.

In this regard the airline is continuing with its efforts to fine-tune its summer 2017 schedule to make flights more attractive, both for travellers from Malta as well as for the tourists visiting the islands.

Above all Air Malta needs to also maximise its profitability and returns to the airline. This is at the core of everything it should do.

As from May 2017, the airline added,  the Maltese airline will concentrate more on its profitable routes, and increasing frequencies on Munich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Vienna, Zurich, Rome, Catania, Lyon, Palermo, Prague and Moscow.

Air Malta is focusing its efforts on its best performers and will operate with up to double daily flights in peak summer to Munich, Rome and Catania.

Some routes will be discontinued including Manchester.

Although the entire strategy has not been made clear, it seems that both the government and the airline have given up on the Alitalia merger, also considering that Alitalia has enormous problems of its own and is now not so sure about its relations with Etihad, which seems to be having cold feet about the whole merger idea.

So in the absence of a strategic partner, Air Malta is battening down and cutting (brutally one can add) those much-beloved routes which do not turn a profit any more, such as Frankfurt and Manchester.

There was a time when one could argue that showing the flag in such places worked wonders for the Malta brand. No longer, it seems. These are the days of hard economic and financial logic.

The airline has jettisoned some of what used to be among its main selling points, such as the hot free meals, the screens showing comic films, etc.

One can point out there are still areas where maybe further economies can be made. Detractors still argue that the airline is still over-manned, compared to comparable airlines.

Some point to a comparison with the defunct Malta Drydocks where at the end what were called 'Indirect' employees, that is those who were not engaged in the profit-making sector of the dockyard, became numerically unsustainable for the company as a whole.

As far as is known, an analysis has never been made, or, if it has been made, it has not been made public. Certainly, under the previous administration, there were calls for early retirement schemes made, while as far as is known this administration not only did not launch such schemes but is said to have actually added people on the books.

One urges the company to look into this too. For while it would be unfair for the employees to be sacrificed on behalf of the airline, so too it would be unfair for strategic routes to have to be closed down when the airline could obtain savings from elsewhere.

 

 


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