The Malta Independent 26 June 2022, Sunday

Gozo-Malta airplane ticket set to cost €25-€35 – GRDA

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 22 May 2022, 08:30 Last update: about 2 months ago

The cost of a single ticket to cross between Malta and Gozo on a small airplane when the airstrip project is completed is set to cost between €25 and €35, the Gozo Regional Development Authority CEO Mario Borg told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Earlier this month the Ministry for Gozo proposed the idea to lengthen the already existing airstrip from its current 170m to 450m. Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri stressed that no agricultural land will be utilised

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Speaking with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Borg said that the Authority was involved in the planning stages and backed the project.

“Our stance is not neutral as apart from the GRDA having been involved from the beginning of this project, it is also in charge of its regional impact assessment.”

He added that despite this the GRDA is following the debate on the project with interest.

Borg said that the ministry for Gozo took the right steps in engaging the GRDA in the planning stages of the airstrip project. The Authority, he said, made sure that the project did not encroach on agricultural land.

Speaking about the public consultation exercise, Borg said that “there might be some areas that we are unaware of, and thus, by engaging with the public and with other stakeholders, we might receive views and feedback that we might have missed. We are open to discuss other issues which might need improvement; it is not like the project plan is cast in stone”.

He added that until now the GRDA has positively impacted the project overall by asserting that the proposed airstrip does not go beyond the pre-set parameters.

Borg said that the project, as it currently stands, does not include any additional structures, apart from the refurbishing of the current heliport.

He was being asked about the views expressed by former Labour leader Alfred Sant who, in his bi-weekly column on The Malta Independent, criticised the project by saying that he is “unconvinced” on the ideas of Gozo having its own airfield.

Sant added that it will soon be discovered that the airfield project, as framed, is not commercially viable and that the project itself will need to be enlarged. Apart from that Sant said he is also of the opinion that in the future surrounding agricultural land will also be taken as new commercial buildings give way.

Sant also suggested that the 11 passengers, which is the maximum number of passengers for the type of planes which will be allowed to operate when the project is complete, can also be carried by “a reasonably-sized helicopter”.

Replying Borg said that although there is no legal paperwork prohibiting from future buildings to be developed nearby, it “would not make sense for Gozo to have additional development structures such as restaurants in Xewkija, near the Heliport, since you can get to Gozo central in just five minutes”.

Borg said that although connectivity between the islands is one of the selling points of the airfield project, it is not one of the main reasons.

“The airfield is not intended just to better connectivity. Although it is one of the factors it is not the only one,” he said.

Borg said that with the project in place it would attract the research and testing of industrial drones, which would be a new economical niche. Apart from that he highlighted that such a project is prone to attract flight schools.

Through a study carried out by the GRDA it resulted that such a project would attract these new sectors, which Borg described as not being “invasive”. It is estimated that these new sectors will generate a €2.5m economic injection a year. Apart from that it is also estimated that a total of 50 full-time job positions will also be created.

Borg said that “we don’t need a niche that grows exponentially… even if they pay lodging and cost of living expenses for six months, it would be enough”. Apart from the economic boost, it would also ascertain that the project does not go bankrupt as it would be generating profit.

He said that the GRDA has come to know that both flight academies and companies involved in the research and testing of industrial drones would be interested to use the facilities, with the latter having already explored the potential of Gozo, by conducting a testing session at Dwejra in 2021.

Borg said that it would cost more to operate a “reasonably-sized helicopter” rather than a small plane. Through the same study that was carried out by the Authority, it is estimated that the inter-island air transport service could potentially operate around 69,783 passenger trips a year, an average of 191 passengers per day. Although the price setting is going to be left liberalised, the GRDA has calculated that tickets would be in the range of around €25-€35 per person per trip, single way.

When this current project is compared to the helicopter service which was shut down in 2006 after operating for only 18 months, Borg said that the planned aeroplane service would be more viable since it has its own activities which would be able to financially sustain the whole operation.

Borg also said that from some preliminary research the GRDA has done, it has also concluded that such a project is also likely to influence the way in which tourists spend their days on the islands, as with such a hassle-free system, they would choose to spend more days in Gozo.

 

 

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