Editorial | End the Air Malta saga

This will enable the government to recoup some of its initial capital outlay while strengthening the commercial underpinnings of the company


The Air Malta saga has dragged on for too long and the current situation is not only causing uncertainty among its workers but also within the tourism industry.

It’s been almost two years now that government has been locked in talks with the European Commission over a rescue deal that would see millions of euros in state aid being pumped into the airline.

Even if talks with the European Commission are not yet over, the airline’s future is now being cast into serious doubt by the airline’s own executive chairperson.

David Curmi told the Times of Malta this week that Air Malta will be shut down and replaced by a new State-owned airline by the end of the year. He also promised a seamless transition.

His frank assessment was quickly toned down by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, who insisted talks with Brussels had not ended. Caruana refrained from commenting further, insisting once everything was concluded he would be informing the country and parliament of the outcome.

The reality is probably closer to what Curmi described and Caruana’s more muted reaction was possibly a question of political expediency, not wanting to upset the applecart before the Labour Party’s Workers’ Day celebrations on 1 May.

The minister has to end the uncertainty and outline in clear terms what the government intends to do. He has always been frank and honest in his assessment of the airline’s beleaguered situation and should clearly state what the European Commission’s prognosis is.

If Air Malta in its current incarnation is not salvageable despite the restructuring that took place over the past 12 months, Caruana must say how the government will ensure the country has a national airline.

A national airline remains crucial to Malta’s connectivity with key airports throughout Europe and the neighbourhood.

MIA CEO Alan Borg has gone on record many times that Malta needs a national carrier. It is a feeling shared by many others in the tourism sector.

Air Malta is, along with Ryanair, a major carrier at Malta International Airport. Whatever happens to the national airline is likely to have an impact on airport operations but also the tourism industry as a whole.

In January 2022 when Caruana had unveiled a restructuring programme for Air Malta, this leader wrote that “saving the airline is not only an act of national pride but of strategic importance”.

If Air Malta cannot be saved, it still remains of strategic importance to have a national airline of sorts.

Brussels has to decide the fate of Air Malta so that the uncertainty can be removed but if everything is pointing towards the inevitable closure of the airline, government must end the speculation now. The talks have dragged on for too long.

There is only one option. Government has to set up a new air company and wind down Air Malta. Any termination benefits due to Air Malta workers must be in line with normal practice in industrial relations and no preferential treatment should be afforded.

Recruitment with the new company will be on new terms and conditions thus moving away from the legacy issues that haunted Air Malta. The government, however, must ensure that a new airline is run by competent people and on a purely commercial basis.

Lest the new airline will experience the same fate as Air Malta in a few years’ time, politicians of any hue should not turn it into a glorified employment agency for constituents.

But government may also consider at a later stage widening the shareholding base by giving off 30% of the new company’s shares to the public and floating it on the Malta Stock Exchange. This will enable the government to recoup some of its initial capital outlay while strengthening the commercial underpinnings of the company.

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