Editorial | The good, the bad and the ugly

This is good news for the economy. Operators in the sector will directly benefit from improving tourism numbers but these will also have a spill over effect on other sectors


Ryanair’s announcement that its Malta subsidiary Malta Air will be operating a record 66-route schedule over the summer is good news.

The budget airline will not only increase frequency on more than 20 existing routes but will also add four new destinations on its schedule.

This will improve Malta’s connectivity and increase capacity on key routes – two crucial elements for the tourism industry’s continued recovery.

The airline’s expanded schedule is a sign of confidence in Malta’s tourism potential. Malta Tourism CEO Carlo Micallef yesterday noted that arrivals in 2023 could come very close to the record-breaking 2019, the last of the pre-pandemic years.

This is good news for the economy. Operators in the sector will directly benefit from improving tourism numbers but these will also have a spill over effect on other sectors.

On a side note, higher tourism numbers bring with them several challenges to the country’s infrastructure, which the government must not ignore. A holistic plan to improve public infrastructure – water, sewage, roads and connectivity, open spaces, cleanliness, law and order – must be put in place with a government-wide commitment to upscale the country.

Much has been said and still can be said on how public infrastructure can be upgraded but this is not the scope of this leader.

What is of concern is that while an airline like Ryanair continues to perform well with a creep-ing dominance in Malta, the national airline Air Malta remains in limbo.

With the European Commission reluctant to give its verdict yet on whether it will allow government to inject funds into Air Malta, this newspaper reports today that government will be taking a final decision on the airline’s future after the summer.

The decision will determine whether Air Malta will wind down and a new State-owned airline is created. If Air Malta ceases to exist and a new airline takes its place, government will be able to start afresh without the legacy issues that have hounded Air Malta for too long.

Hopefully, government will learn from the sins of the past and not repeat them. Air Malta has since its inception been used as a glorified JobsPlus agency, used by ministers to employ their constituents. This temptation must be avoided if a new airline is created.

It is in Malta’s strategic interest to have a national airline but this should not serve the interests of whoever is in power.

The ongoing Air Malta saga is just one of the significant challenges facing the airline industry in Malta.

A proposed aviation fuel tax across the EU is bound to punish countries on the periphery like Malta more than it does larger countries with a myriad of connectivity options. The tax excludes long-haul flights, which arguably have a much higher carbon footprint. All of the flights to and from Malta are short haul and will be disproportionately impacted by the fuel tax.

Ryanair CEO David O’Brien yesterday sounded a fresh warning on the EU fuel tax that is part of the bloc’s drive to cut down on carbon emissions. He echoed Air Malta’s warning from last year about the tax and urged the Maltese government to oppose it.

But he also made reference to the “unprofessional” behaviour of Malta’s Air Traffic Controllers, which he claimed was causing additional fuel consumption.

O’Brien said aircraft were sometimes inexplicably put into holding positions that meant additional fuel was being consumed needlessly. The authorities must look into these claims and if they are true take the appropriate steps to cut out the nonsense.

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