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Mixed reactions to Air Malta CEO appointment

By Ray Abdilla

Although already approved as Air Malta's CEO, the contract between Ernest Funk and the airline is still awaiting final signature. Meanwhile, Labour's Tourism Shadow Minister Karmenu Vella is adamant that employing a foreigner was not a good decision as it was thanks to the Maltese that Air Malta is what it is today.

Close to 100 individuals had applied for the post of CEO at Air Malta and the relevant interviews were conducted by a selection board specifically set-up by Air Malta, which included amongst its members a number of Air Malta’s directors.

The final short-list before the last round of interviews had included both expatriates and Maltese nationals and, according to Economic Services Minister Josef Bonnici, no one has disputed the credentials or the deliberations of the selection board.

Profs. Bonnici was replying queries put forth by The Malta Financial and Business Times.

Regarding the selection Labour Tourism Shadow Minister, Karmenu Vella, said that his party has not yet taken a stand on the appointment of Ernst Funk as Air Malta's new chief executive but on a personal basis he believes that he was not needed.

He told this newspaper yesterday that over the years the Maltese airline has moved forward thanks to the Maltese and a comparison of what happened to several leading airlines after 11 September shows that Air Malta confirmed its business acumen by the way it continued to conduct its operations. Most of the big airlines even laid off people but Air Malta steered clear of such a measure, although with difficulty, throughout its day to day running.

However, Profs. Bonnici said that he has already explained through various pronouncements that the remuneration package for the prospective CEO of Air Malta follows closely upon the formula adopted (by the previous Government) in connection with the appointment of two expatriate chief executives at the Malta Drydocks.

He also said that the salary package offered to the new CEO is the prerogative of Air Malta, if and when it deems appropriate, to divulge details about the salary package of its CEO, especially given that the relevant contract is still awaiting signature.

The Minister added that Mr Funk is 58 years old, with a long and distinguished track record in the airline industry. Within Swiss Air, Mr Funk had occupied a number of different posts, gaining experience in various facets of the airline business. It is expected that this invaluable experience in senior posts (within what was undeniably one of the leading airlines, not only in Europe but also worldwide) will be the ideal complement to the expertise that already exists within Air Malta.

This augurs well for the future of Air Malta, since it must be able to evolve dynamically to face new challenges and exploit new opportunities.

However, the Labour Party Tourism Main Spokesman commented yesterday, "Give me a shrewd Maltese businessman or a Maltese leader and I would not swap him with any foreigner."

He explained that during the Labour administration the first decision taken was that of instituting a Non-Executive Chief Officer and an Executive Officer. Mr Louis Grech and Joe Capello were the people chosen and they did a fantastic job, he explains.

The former Labour Tourism Minister said that even if the reason for bringing in foreign management is that as members of the European Union, Air Malta could start flying all destinations, that is an excuse and that a Maltese could manage such a change with ease.

The Labour Party Shadow Minister for Tourism also spoke about the recent decision taken by Air Malta of phasing itself out of Azzurra Air and opting to lease instead of buying new fleet of aeroplanes. That, he explains, will leave the Maltese airline with a lot of cash flow. Another decision was the joint agreement with Lufthansa Airlines for the maintenance of aeroplanes.

The Maltese took these decisions and they make sense. But what will happen now, he explains, is that the new Swiss CEO will get all the credit in a couple of years time when such decisions are to bear fruit.

The Malta Financial & Business Times also spoke to John Saliba, Air Malta public relations and marketing head about Funk's appointment.

He said that at the moment the company could not give any information regarding the approval of the new CEO because until now (until going to press) no contract has been signed between Mr Funk and Air Malta.


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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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