The Malta Independent 25 September 2022, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Air Malta: Hanging by a thread

Monday, 19 September 2022, 11:51 Last update: about 6 days ago

We’ve seen it all before, we’ve heard it all before, and we’ve written about it all before: but this time it actually does appear that the final chapter for Air Malta is being written – one final chapter for a national airline which has done so much for the tourism industry, but at the same time has become synonymous with all that is wrong with politics in this country.

The national airline’s financial struggles are well-documented: Finance Minister Clyde Caruana was very open with the situation that Air Malta was facing when, last January, he announced a last-ditch plan to save the airline from financial oblivion.

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The crux of that plan was receiving the green light from the European Commission to inject capital funds into the airline – something which is tightly regulated, particularly in the aviation industry, as it constitutes state aid.

That green light hasn’t come, and there is nothing to indicate that it will ever come.  The warning claxon that something was afoot was sounded by The Shift some weeks ago when it reported on a government plan to shutter the airline.

Later reports suggested that Air Malta would be replaced by a new airline title Valletta Air as part of the plan.

It was becoming increasingly clear that the national airline’s fate was not only in the balance, but it was teetering on the brink, hanging by a thread.

This was confirmed by Caruana last Friday as he launched the government’s pre-budget document, wherein he said, quite frankly, that “we cannot expect to have an airline that is not losing money. We cannot accept this” and that Air Malta had been losing 40 million a year.

In response to a question asking whether Air Malta will be replaced by Valletta Air, he did not directly answer this question, but he hinted at it when talking about the need for reform.

He said that in order to save the airline the company would need a large capital injection and reform. However, this needs to be approved by the European Commission.

“The company definitely needs a capital injection, how this will happen and the form the company will take will be decided by the European Commission,” he said.

There is a lot to say about how Air Malta has gotten to this point.  Quite simply though it can be summed up as being emblematic of the system of politics that political parties – first the PN, and now the PL – have used to ensure that they gain or remain in power.

It is an open secret that Air Malta is one of the government companies used to shamelessly channel people close to those in power into jobs where they are either not needed or where they do very little in terms of work.

Those people are then ‘supported’ through agreements which are truly on the lines of the absurd and unbelievable.  As Caruana himself put it on Friday: “I cannot understand how a company can make a profit when its employees retire at 55 and are continued to be paid till they’re 65.”

“It doesn’t make sense”, Caruana said, summing it up quite nicely.  The pity is that those before him ignored that it didn’t make sense and went ahead with it anyway.

So what happens if Air Malta does close its doors?

Without delving into too much detail – the assessment that Malta needs a national airline, as said by Caruana on Friday, is a correct one.

Besides carrying 30% of Malta’s tourism, a national airline is important – particularly since Malta is an island nation – because it means that the country isn’t reliant on multi-national companies with no real ties or interests in Malta beyond it being a semi-seasonal tourism destination for its connectivity.

A new national airline – besides naturally doing its best to also be profitable – would keep the national interest in terms of connectivity at heart in its operations as well.

“Air Malta needs to be fixed and it will be fixed,” Caruana said on Friday.

The question is: what form will the fix take, and will we finally get an airline which isn’t used as a tool to garner votes with?

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