The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

Indepth: Air Malta able to service safe corridor routes with half its pilots – Economy Minister

INDEPTH online Friday, 12 June 2020, 09:09 Last update: about 5 months ago

Air Malta will be able to operate its safe corridor flights even with half of its pilots, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said on the latest edition of Indepth.

He was answering a question posed by The Malta Independent’s Deputy Editor-in-Chief Neil Camilleri, wherein he was asked if he believes that Air Malta will have enough pilots to operate flights to the 19 safe corridors once the airport reopens on 1 July seeing that 69 pilots are set to be laid-off.

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Schembri said Air Malta had to lay off its pilots after failing to reach a compromise with the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), despite the offers that the airline put forward.

“The company has been faced with some difficult times, which is why I vouched for it to get state aid. However, in these circumstances, we cannot just use up millions or euros for pilots’ early retirement as ALPA suggested. There were instances of greed which were unacceptable,” he said.

One must understand that the aviation industry has changed completely and that the competition will be harsher than ever before, the minister said while emphasising that Air Malta must be sustainable in that environment or else it will have no option but to close down.

“We don't afford not having a national airline. The majority of aviation workers understood this, even some pilots, but ALPA did not.”

He said that the number of pilots that Air Malta will have left after the layoffs will be enough to operate the 19 safe corridor routes.

“These destinations are a very small percentage from usual and I think that one or two planes would suffice to operate these flights,” the minister said.

He explained that having half of the pilots still employed means that Air Malta can man five planes not just two, meaning that it does not even need half of the pilots to operate flights for the 19 chosen destinations. However, the national airline kept this amount because it wanted to ensure that it will be able to operate all principal routes that bring in the most tourists.

During the interview, Schembri was also asked about the €900 million mini budget that was announced last Monday, which is aimed at helping businesses get back on their feet as they reopen after months of being shut down.

Reduction of fuel prices by 7 cents

Schembri was asked if the reduction in fuel prices was done specifically for this situation or if it is a result of a hedging agreement seeing that fuel prices have reduced internationally.

The minister explained that the reason why the government did not reduce fuel prices immediately, as the Nationalist party had proposed, was that the international drop in fuel prices came during the time that the government was urging people to stay at home.

“It would not have made sense to tell them to stay home and then reduce prices which incentivises travel,” he said. “Now that we are removing restrictions, we are taking that step to lower fuel prices, even though, internationally, it is on the rise again.”

He added that the plan is to hedge at a gradual pace in order to maintain stability and avoid breaking the economic chain by changing the prices every month as previous administrations had done, referring to when the PN was in government.

Asked for his opinion on the criticism that the recovery plan received from the Opposition, he promptly shot it down and attributed it to the Opposition's "populist proposals" during the pandemic.

He said that the easiest thing for the government to do was to give everyone what they need, like the Opposition suggested, but said that this would not have been sustainable in the long run, as every action has its repercussions.

Magisterial inquiry on misuse of public funds by the Cabinet

The minister was also asked if he has been called in to testify before the inquiry regarding allegations that have been made against Cabinet for misusing public funds for promotional material.

Schembri said that he has not been called, but he is “sincerely” looking forward to it as he is sure of the result that will emerge.

He reiterated Prime Minister Robert Abela’s words, saying that Cabinet is following the guidelines which were released by the Standards Commissioner George Hylzer after he had accused certain ministers of using public resources to raise their personal and political profiles.

“This inquiry is a balloon that is just waiting to pop in the faces of those making these allegations,” Schembri stated.

 

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Earlier story

 

The Covid-19 wage supplement could continue beyond September if required, but the government assistance should not be used as an excuse for people not to go to work, Economy Minister Silvio Schembri said on the latest edition of Indepth.

The main topic of discussion during an interview between Schembri and The Malta Independent's Deputy Editor-in-Chief Neil Camilleri was the €900 million mini budget that was announced last Monday, which is aimed at helping businesses get back on their feet as they reopen after months of being shut down.

The government has announced that the wage supplement has been extended until September, although the amount is being tapered for some sectors that are recovering. This has been interpreted by some as meaning that the supplement will stop in September.

But Schembri said that the supplement has been extended to September only because the annual budget will be announced in the following month.

"There were some who have already tried to sow doubts and had said that the supplement would stop in July. We extended by September because there will be the normal budget in October. By then, we will have enough time to analyse the situation and give more support if needed."

Schembri said the decision to start lowering the amount for some sectors was not taken to save money. "This is a question of mentality. We do not want a situation where people find it easier to stay at home and do nothing while receiving the supplement. That is a frightful mentality and we do not want to go against the concept we introduced over the past seven years of making work pay."

Schembri also said that, in order to "protect the middle class, our families, we must protect jobs."

He responded to criticism that not enough was done for families by saying that the most important thing is to protect jobs.

Schembri explained that, in reality, this is not a budget but a recovery plan, so it can be considered to be the fourth financial aid package.

This plan received positive feedback overall but it was criticised by the Opposition, which felt that there were not enough incentives to help families and the general public.

Asked for his opinion on this criticism, Schembri promptly shot it down and attributed it to the Opposition's "populist proposals" during the pandemic.

"God forbid that we had listened to the Opposition's populist proposals during this pandemic, such as their call for a total lockdown. It would have caused companies to go bust and people to lose their jobs, while our country's finances would have reached the levels experienced during Nationalist administrations, which would truly be a crisis," he said.

He explained that the easiest thing for the government to do was to give everyone what they need, like the Opposition suggested, but this would not have been sustainable in the long run, as every action has its repercussions.

For this reason, the government decided on a targeted approach to help the hardest hit sectors and get the economic wheel turning once more.

"It is useless to talk about how much you would like to help the public without having anything to give them in the first place," Schembri said. "In order to continue to implement sustainable measures for families in general in the future, as we have done in the past seven years, we need to have some sort of economic growth."

He believes that this growth will only come about if the government instigates activity within the business sector, which is exactly what this recovery plan aims to do.


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