Air Malta's airline pilots' association (ALPA) president Dominic Azzopardi vehemently denied delaying an Air Malta flight and insisted that the airline is trying to get back to him and ALPA for giving notice of an industrial dispute on Friday.
Speaking to MaltaToday, Azzopardi said that on Friday the association informed the Air Malta management and the industrial tribunal of an industrial dispute, which will come into force as of Wednesday.
Pilots and Air Malta's management remain at loggerheads over the restructuring of the national airline - recently the airline said pilots wanted an increase in their annual salaries, while pilots say they are right in demanding an increase after having frozen their salaries for three years in a bid to assist the airline restructuring.
Azzopardi was reacting to front-page report on today's Sunday Times in which an Air Malta spokesperson declared that the airline investigating the delay of a flight from Milan to Malta after the captain waited 30 minutes for Azzopardi.
He shed doubts on whether such an episode merited a front-page report while reminding that Air Malta chairman Louis Farrugia sits on the board of directors at Allied Newspapers Ltd, publishers of The Times and The Sunday Times.
ALPA's president insisted that the story was leaked by "people at the top" of the Air Malta's management and not by passengers on board the aircraft.
"This is a clear attempt of character assassination against me and the association, from the very top of the airline's management," a bellicose Azzopardi said.
"We will not give in. We mean business. It seems that the airline has enough money for the re-branding exercise and for the astronomical wages received by the management," Azzopardi said.
He explained that he is a company employee and is not part of the management, adding that his role as ALPA president is carried out on a voluntary basis, "and not on a €500,000 salary."
Air Malta posted a loss of €30 million this year, after having received the European Commission's green light for a restructuring plan in which the airline must become profitable after receiving €130 million in state aid. Recently, the Air Malta launched a €1.9 million rebranding of Air Malta.
The Air Malta CEO Peter Davies, appointed in 2011 to turnaround the airline's flailing fortunes, receives a €500,000 salary.
In the Sunday Times report, Air Malta said it is "taking the incident very seriously" and is treating the case as "misuse of authority."
However, Azzopardi asked who is being accused of an abuse of authority, since he was a passenger on the mentioned flight.
"Probably the pilot was not even aware that I was one of the passengers he was asked to wait for. The pilot was informed by Air Malta's Italian agents to wait for a few passengers," adding that this situation is completely normal.
He insisted it was "normal procedure" for pilots to delay take-off for passengers who are late or lost at the airport, pointing out that flights were often delayed for such reasons.
Azzopardi added that on numerous occasions flights are delayed in order to wait for MEPs, Malta's former EU permanent representative and the Prime Minister, among others.