The Malta Independent 3 August 2020, Monday

Updated - Watch: Malta International Airport re-opens for passenger travel

Wednesday, 1 July 2020, 10:51 Last update: about 2 months ago

Karl Azzopardi and Albert Galea; Videos/Photos Alenka Falzon

The Malta International Airport has opened for tourists once again, with 11 flights arriving in Malta on the first day of the resumption of air traffic.

The airport was shut on 20 March as Malta moved to curb the importation of cases of Covid-19, but, after 103 days closed, reopened to tourist flights on Wednesday from a limited number of destinations.

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Flights from Poland, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Ireland will land in Malta throughout the course of the day, while flights will leave the island to Germany, Austria, Poland, Italy, and Ireland over the course of today, with flights to the United Kingdom resuming as of Thursday as well.

The airport will open to flights from all destinations as from 15 July.

Economy Minister Silvio Schembri and Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli were present at the airport on Wednesday as tourist flights resumed and witnessed the arrival of one of the very first flights to arrive in Malta from Rome, Italy. They were all smiles as they welcomes passengers coming down from the aircraft; giving a warm welcome to the first few tourists who will be revitalising Malta’s tourism sector and, in turn, its economy.

Earlier last month, the MIA released a number of safety guidelines for those travelling through the airport, including the mandatory wearing of a mask or visor and the maintaining of social distancing as well, with measures in place, such as that non-travelling persons will not be allowed into the terminal.

Meanwhile, both arriving and departing passengers will be monitored through temperature checks through heat-detecting cameras, with those who are detected to have a fever not being allowed to fly and being sent instead to be tested for Covid-19.

“Today marks two important milestones,” Air Malta CEO Alan Borg said while addressing the press, “we can walk around the airport not in dark but with all activity on-going. It also marks the start of our journey towards sustainable numbers for tourism.”

While thanking all stakeholders for their work to make today happen, he explained that setting up the airport as it is was no easy feat as they had to find a balance between health and the enjoyment of travellers. “We have set up over 2,200 signs, 180 meters of partitions and new walls and we have also set up new cameras to control clusters of people.”

“It is going to be a long road with regards to numbers but no beginning is easy and I believe that if we keep working together as we have we will bring Malta back to its formal glory in the coming months,” he concluded.

Tourism Minister Farrugia Portelli said that this day is also a milestone for all the workers within the tourism industry.

She explained that they are expecting 11 flights today, 10 tomorrow and a total of 81 flights by the end of this week. 1,800 passengers are expected to be landing in Malta today, 500 of which coming in through our ports rather than the airport like the rest.

“This is a modest figure but we have to start from somewhere. Now we have to keep consolidating our efforts like the 'aggressive' marketing campaign so that we can reach our aim of having 700,000 tourists by the end of this year,” she said.

Economic Minister Schembri extended his thanks to all stakeholders and workers within the sector who made this day possible.

"When we speak of our airport, we are talking about an economic activity that affects thousands of families across Malta and Gozo. This day is a step toward the normality that we have known before this pandemic," he said.

"This day is an example of how this government works, a government that is close to its entities and stakeholders in order for everyone to pull the same rope. However, the most important thing is that the public collaborates with us because we have achieved this success in Malta through the discipline of the public," he said.

The Malta Independent asked for the minister’s opinion on how long he believes it will take for the tourism sector to recover seeing that different entities have had different ideas on the subject.

In an interview on Indepth last month, MIA’s CEO Alan Borg had estimated that the industry may take some three years to fully recover from the effects but the pandemic. Wednesday, represents the first day of that recovery.

Soon after, the newsroom asked Finance Minister Edward Scicluna this question who speculated that it will take just a year or a year and a half for the industry to get back on its feet but the solution lies in the demand.

Schembri said that he does not think it’s an issue of time as the important thing is that everyone involved does there absolute best for us to recover as quickly as possible. “Recovering in six months is better than one year, obviously, so this is exactly what we are focused on at the moment,” he said.

Nonetheless, he added that the targets which the authorities had set for this sector are looking more positive than they had thought - "if we keep moving at this rate we should supersede our targets by a lot."

“I am confident about the fact that activity has restarted but it is impossible to get the figures we got last year seeing that we achieved record performance within tourism in 2019. However, like I said, there are positive numbers and if we consider them alongside all the other economic recovery packages the government released over the past months we should expect commercial activity to be good,” he stated.

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