The Malta Independent 26 November 2022, Saturday
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TMID Editorial - The Gozo airfield: Is it viable?

Monday, 3 October 2022, 11:38 Last update: about 3 months ago

The government last week announced that it had submitted a planning application for the previously announced rural airfield in Gozo, which came after a public consultation which yielded some 70 recommendations for improvement.

The runway, if approved, be built in Xewkija on land which will adjoin to the already existing helipad.  The land in question isn’t agricultural and is within the development zone.  It will be around 450 metres long and will cater for small aircraft which can carry up to 11 passengers.

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The government is seeking to operate the airfield through public-private partnerships.  The airfield will not operate any international flights – meaning that the only commercial flights in and out will be to the Malta International Airport in Luqa.

Minister for Gozo Clint Camilleri stated that through this project, Gozo's connectivity will continue to improve. "As a government, we have a track record in implementing projects, and as pledged in the electoral manifesto, we are working on this project to enhance Gozo's connectivity. We believe that this project will help foster a new and sustainable economic niche, creating quality jobs and attracting more high-quality tourism to our shores", Minister Camilleri said.

It is far from the first time that attempts have been made for air connectivity to Gozo.

A helicopter service between Malta and Gozo lasted just 18 months, after the Spanish company which operated it shut up shop in 2006.  A seaplane service, which operated between Mgarr Harbour and Valletta’s Grand Harbour lasted considerably longer – between 2007 and 2012 – but ultimately met the same fate as the helicopter.

That’s perhaps why all eyes – as they have been already since this project was first floated again last May – will be on whether this project is actually viable or not.

Since the project was first announced, we have seen issues on financial viability with the Gozo fast ferry service – a service which was far more in demand than an airfield ever was, but which has still floundered.

The government this week announced that it was putting itself into the market through a public service contract which is worth 12 million over two years and which the two operators had essentially said was the only way that the service could keep going.

Despite this though, the operators announced a new timetable which saw the number of trips between Valletta and Gozo be slashed to the point that the last trip would leave Malta’s capital as early as 4:30pm on weekdays.

This makes the service totally useless for those Gozitans working jobs in Malta and wanting to commute between the two islands through the fast ferry, and in fact the new timetable drew sharp condemnation from Gozitan lobby groups.

The question now is: if a service which was in demand as much as the fast ferry is clearly not financially viable, how is a service as niche as an airfield going to be financially viable?

The government would do well to truly assess whether this project will be financially viable or not before pushing ahead with it, as the country is not in a position to waste money on pies in the sky just for the sake of ticking the boxes on an electoral manifesto proposal.

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