Editorial | Nurturing the aviation cluster

Ryanair setting up a Maltese subsidiary cannot be viewed in isolation as Malta has gradually been building an aviation cluster that is providing value added, jobs and has a potential for further growth


Ryanair’s decision to open a Malta subsidiary is a plus point for the country because it gives the low-cost airline greater permanency on the island.

For those who were around in 2005 when this country was having a heated debate on whether low fare airlines should form part of the Maltese aviation landscape, the setting up of Malta Air by Ryanair is more than welcome.

Back in 2005, then tourism minister Francis Zammit Dimech had warned how low-cost airlines and the internet were reshaping the aviation industry and Malta would be “foolish to play ostrich” by pretending the changes were not happening.

The bold decision to open up to low-cost travel back then provided an important impetus to the tourism sector and gave Maltese travellers more options.

Back then, a lot of scaremongering was happening with legacy airlines warning that low-cost giants like Ryanair and Easyjet would come in, take what they want and pack their bags.

This has not happened. Ryanair grew from strength to strength and the airline is today, along with Air Malta, a major contributor to air passenger traffic.

In Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi’s words, Ryanair grew to become what ST is to the manufacturing industry – a big player the country cannot afford to lose.

Enticing Ryanair to set up Malta Air was an important move and the government did right to pursue it. After Air Malta, the country now has a second airline based here.

Malta Air will be paying taxes in Malta, employing people who will pay taxes in Malta, and eventually setting up an engineering facility here. The aim of the company is to increase the number of planes it operates, a move that will give the tourism sector more oomph to continue growing over the coming years.

However, this development cannot be viewed in isolation. Malta has been gradually building an aviation cluster that is providing value added, jobs and has a potential for further growth.

Malta Air’s arrival was also accompanied by Ryanair’s decision to register more aircraft in Malta.

Apart from the initial six planes that will be operated by Malta Air, the Irish carrier also plans to register 60 aircraft that are based in Germany and Italy.

This is testament to the success of the Maltese aircraft registry.

This is another side of the aviation industry Malta has managed to develop more robustly over the past five years.

There is still more that can be done to make the aviation sector an important cog in the economy.

Government has been preparing an airport masterplan to identify the different zones around the airport perimeter and determine how best these can be used to develop aviation-related activities. This plan must be pursued and rolled out for consultation with clear deadlines for implementation.

But moving ahead in this field also requires that other sectors keep up with the pace.

In education, MCAST and the University of Malta must tailor courses to respond to these developments. Having a home-based skilled workforce is crucial, even if it will not be enough to fill in all the jobs that could be created.

In financial services, the banking sector must get its act together to offer aviation companies efficient solutions.

In enforcement, the forces of law and order and regulatory authorities must have the resources and expertise to act swiftly and robustly if need be.

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