The Malta Independent 18 October 2021, Monday

TMID Editorial: Changing times - Air Malta and Ryanair in a once-unlikely relationship

Thursday, 23 August 2018, 09:38 Last update: about 4 years ago

Roll the clock back 12 or 13 years to the height of the turmoil, fuss and panic about the introduction of low cost airlines to Malta, what that advent would mean to Air Malta and the quality of Malta's tourism product.

Go back to that juncture in time and suggest to someone that one day some years down the road that Air Malta and Ryanair would one day strike a partnership to help each other sell each others' seats and you would have certainly have been met with no small amount of rebuke.

Back in those days of 2005 and 2006, it had been the GRTU that had been spearheading the introduction of low cost airlines to Malta, against the wishes of the government of the time, which had branded those lobbying for the Ryanairs of this world to bring their hundreds of thousands of tourists to Malta.

Many were those who branded the proponents of low cost air fares as the low-cost-at-all-costs brigade.  In the end, as we know, Air Malta's different monopolies have been shattered, routes have been distributed and the rest is history.

It was in November 2006 that the larger than life character of Ryaniar's chief executive Michael O'Leary arrived in Malta to inaugurate the airline's  first routes to and from Malta - with a Maltese flag draped over his shoulders and sporting a broad grin - saying: 'Like a fight, but it's great when you make up'.

Fast forward 12 years and, with low cost airlines now in full swing, the two airlines announced what had been previously practically unthinkable, something like a second wedding: Air Malta will now be selling 21 of its routes on the Ryanair website as part of a new joint venture.  There is also the prospect of connecting Air Malta services with Ryan air service.

It was also back in 2006 that A Ryanair base in Malta, he added, could also be used to serve the North African market remains largely untapped by the airline.  Those plans from all those years back now also seem to be coming to fruition, with Air Malta's next level being an expansion, in conjunction with the Ryanair offering, of its services to North Africa and even to sub-Saharan Africa.

Is this new partnership with Ryanair the elixir the airline needs to bring it back to health?  It would seem that the government is placing its eggs in this basket after successive attempts at finding a strategic partner have floundered.

The national airline has rarely been clear of turbulence over recent years. From its near bankruptcy and the €130 million bailout in the form of the state aid it had been given in 2012 under the previous government, to the current government's failed bid to entice a strategic partner in what would effectively have been be another bailout for the long-suffering airline.

Now the airline intends going it alone, perhaps because the government's long and winding search for a strategic partner has been all but exhausted. But in order to do so and to somehow remain on an even keel.

The European Commission has, however, already vetoed the prospect of any further state aid for the airline, so any solutions for the airline will really and truly have to be of its own making.

It is hoped that this new formula struck with the former enemy will be just the ticket for Air Malta.

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