The Malta Independent 29 February 2020, Saturday

Long haul Air Malta flights still an option, but depend on studies and viability – Schembri

Albert Galea Friday, 24 January 2020, 07:51 Last update: about 2 months ago

Long haul flights by Air Malta to destinations such as Mumbai or New York are still an option which is being considered, but their eventual introduction will depend on studies into the viability of such routes, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said on Thursday.

Speaking at the offices of the national air carrier, Schembri said that the concept of long haul routes was in fact one of the things being discussed as part of Air Malta’s growth strategy, but noted that he would be being presumptuous to confirm whether such routes would pan out or no as studies were still ongoing.

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He said that there are some risks associated with long haul travel which must be taken into consideration and explored, noting that a certain amount of investment – especially into resources for such routes – would need to take place. 

He said that one has to look at the whole picture when considering such ideas, and said that the airline is in the process of analysing whether such routes would be economically viable or not.

The first indication that Air Malta was eyeing long-haul flights was given by former Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi, who had pin-pointed destinations such as New York in America, Mumbai in India, and Toronto in Canada as potential avenues for expansion in September 2018.

Mizzi had continued to make mention of the potential of these routes almost up until his resignation, last November. Air Malta has now been moved under the remit of the Economy Ministry, which is now headed by Silvio Schembri, who visited the national carriers offices in Luqa on Thursday.

Schembri said that the fact that Air Malta was one of the first places which he had visited after taking the role of Minister for the Economy, Investment, and Small Businesses shows that the national carrier will be at the top of his priority list.

He said that the airline is “not out of the woods yet” but is on a good path, and noted that he is sure that if everyone pulls the same rope in the same direction then they can beat any challenge.

The government, he said, has a moral obligation to keep the airline going, and would be pursuing a growth strategy which is already in discussion and which looks at diversification into new markets which are not limited to new destinations and may also extend to other ancillary operations.

These operations, he explained, would ensure different revenue generating streams, and may include, for instance, engineering services which can be provided to other airlines based overseas.

The message he wanted to pass in his visit was that Air Malta is an important pillar for Malta’s economy and will remain so in the times to come.  He said that he is committed to continue meeting people and entities including unions so to listen to new and innovative ideas which may meet the challenges ahead, before promising that the government will stand shoulder to shoulder with the airline and provide it with all the necessary support.

Asked about the airline’s financial situation after it declared a profit last year, Schembri said that the accounts for 2019 had not been presented yet so he could not comment. 

He noted that the airline’s restructuring plan is on track and that the plan was not a question of obtaining a profit in the short-term but by growing the airline through a sustainable process.

Asked how he would approach recent issues between Air Malta and its pilots, Schembri said that he intended to continue discussing the issues at hand and move along with what has already been agreed upon between the two parties.  He said that he would be meeting the unions soon and noted that he did not see why collaboration and discussions should not continue.

Air Malta CEO Charles Mangion meanwhile welcomed the minister, saying that his decision to visit the company so early in his tenure shows his interest in the national carrier.

He said that Air Malta does not only have commercial value as an airline, but also as a key part of the Maltese economy.  He said that the airline has contributed to all new sectors introduced into the Maltese economy through the guaranteed connectivity that it has provided to the island.

He said that recent figures with regards to the airline’s performance are positive, but noted that challenges do still remain.  Aviation is a very competitive and ever-changing industry, he said, before adding that the national carrier must make sure it provides a product which is sought after by the public, with competitive prices, and good service.

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