The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

‘Limited’ schedule expected on resumption of flights, situation still fluid

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 23 May 2020, 09:04 Last update: about 6 days ago

Upcoming flight schedules are expected to be “limited” and the number of routes and flights depend on a number of fluid factors, Malta International Airport has told this newspaper.

The Malta Independent has been informed that MIA could axe dozens of routes in its Winter 2020 and Summer 2021 schedules, as the effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on the tourism industry are expected to drag on well into next year.

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Malta is discussing opening ‘safe corridors’ with other countries that have succesfully managed the Covid-19 pandemic, but tourism operators have been warned that the number of routes operated to and from Malta could be drastically reduced in the coming months.

An MIA spokesperson said the airport is in constant talks with its partner airlines and is monitoring any developments closely.

“We expect our schedule to be limited when we resume operations. However, given the fluidity of the situation, we still need to assess the full impact of this crisis on our airline and route network.”

MIA said several factors which it does not yet have an understanding of, including when Malta’s travel ban will be lifted, determine the extent of this impact.

All air traffic to and from Malta was stopped on 21 March.

The government has eased a number of Covid-19 restrictions but there has so far been no word on when the airport will reopen. Malta is discussing opening safe corridors with Luxembourg, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Israel.

The UK is also mulling the idea of ‘air bridges’, removing the 14-day quarantine requirement for people coming from ‘safe’ countries, while Italy has said it will open its airports on 3 June. It is unlikely, however, that Malta will consider re-launching flights to the two countries at this stage – even if they are Malta’s biggest tourism markets – given their high Covid-19 infection rates.

Speaking to The Malta Independent earlier this week, MHRA boss Tony Zahra said that those who think that things will return to normal the day the airport reopens are “gravely mistaken.”

He also said that, the most positive scenario predicted by industry sources is of 1.3 million tourists visiting Malta in 2021. This is around a third of the tourism figures for 2019.

Zahra added that it is very difficult to predict what routes could be axed and if flight frequencies would change, adding that Malta would have to adapt to the situation.

“If we manage to get 30% to 40% of last year’s numbers in the upcoming winter schedule, it would not be so bad,” Zahra said.

Talk about the resumption of commercial flights has been met with mixed reviews, with some social partners saying that tourism is crucial to revive the economy and medical associations saying that the economy is being prioritised over public health.

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