The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

TMID Editorial: The disastrous handling of Air Malta

Monday, 17 January 2022, 09:30 Last update: about 5 months ago

Air Malta has always been and remains the perfect example of mismanagement.

The national airline, which has been crucial for Malta’s connectivity for many, many years, is in stormy waters.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana announced last week that, among other things, the airline will need to shed around half of its entire workforce, i.e. around 400 jobs. Those employees will be transferred through voluntary transfer schemes to public sector employment.

Transferring them to the public sector is probably not the right move. There are staffing shortages in the private sector, and indeed these employees would probably be of more benefit there. Calls for the secondment of such employees to the private sector have already been made by the Chamber of Commerce.

So what led Air Malta to this point? Years and years of operational losses, flying routes that were not making a profit, and overstaffing.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana made clear during a press conference about the airline that these cuts and the changes coming to Air Malta could very well be the airline’s last chance for survival. Speaking about the changes needed, the minister said that the company must not be used by politicians and that such decisions in the past led to there being a loss in the airline which it could have done without.

The airline only made a profit in two years, 2018 and 2019, but the only reason for the change in those years was the sale of the airline’s assets, and if it wasn’t for the sale of those assets, it would have made a loss anyway. The airline has almost no assets left.

Air Malta was in trouble in the past and the PN had struck a state aid deal with the EU. The airline wasn’t exactly managed well under the PN. But the Labour Party did not work on solving the problem either.

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager had told

Caruana when discussions started that the Commission had “lost faith in Air Malta because a lot of promises had not been kept”. The failure by the past Air Malta ministers to save the airline, as well as its current state, are not only worrying, but demand that political responsibility be upheld.

Caruana’s announcement about the state of the airline and the way the situation needs to be tackled will not win any political points. Making the announcement just before the election shows a sense of maturity which he has compared to other politicians. It also shows the dire situation the airline is in, that decisions need to be taken now, and cannot wait a few more months.

One hopes that the minister is right and that the airline’s fighting chance will result in its survival. One also hopes that whoever is the minister under whom the airline falls after the election will not use the airline as an extension for political favours, but will carry on with Caruana’s plan to get the airline on its feet financially.

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