Aaron Farrugia: Civil aviation policy, a massive potential for growth

Aaron Farrugia: Aviation is sector with a massive potential for growth, so as we unveil the government’s roadmap, we are not only delivering on our promise, but also provding stakeholders with a high-level strategy

Aaron Farrugia is minister for transport

Malta’s newly unveiled and first-ever Civil Aviation Policy for the coming eight years is geared towards reaping the best possible share of the forecasted global aviation growth.

Aviation is sector with a massive potential for growth, so as we unveil the government’s roadmap, we are not only delivering on our promise, but also provding stakeholders with a high-level strategy to meet the foreseen developments and changes in the sector.

In aviation, engagement between industry, government, and stakeholders is critical. We must talk about our plans for the future – and listen, understand the difficulties, consider all solutions, and make sure policies and decisions are always rooted in current reality.

Our dependency on aviation cannot be understated. Aviation contributes to no less than €600 million per year towards our economy and carries millions of passengers annually. According to a recent study by my ministry, it directly sustains over 5,000 jobs.

Earlier this week at the National Aviation Conference, we discussed the civil aviation policy together with the Malta Aviation Advisory Committee, which I thank for their crucial role in designing this policy.

Apart from being the fastest and most convenient mode of transport that connects thousands of Maltese and Gozitan residents to the rest of the world, aviation is a vital enabler for many other economic activities and ensures the provision of many of the goods we all depend on. This is why it is important to tackle certain risks and threats such as skills shortages, as well as a degree of fragmentation in ownership in this sector. The industry needs contingencies and investment, but above all, agile and bold leadership.

COVID-19 left a negative impact on aviation, but steps to support this sector have made a difference. We do, however, need to build back greener, and our Civil Aviation Policy does prioritise sustainability. We need to keep up with the industry’s transformation while also transforming its environmental impact.

Over the past years, the sector registered considerable growth. A highlight is 205 AOC registrations in a year, an all-time record for our country to date. By the end of 2022, we had 45 AOCs. Two new AOCs will be added soon. It is a success we owe to the sterling service and high-quality operations of those who depend on mobility and trasport for jobs, travel and other needs. Such a strong sector took years of hard work and commitment to build, and this success is a result of today’s government as much as it is of past governments. I am proud to say we have all been building blocks of this thriving sector in our country.

And with the same determination, together, we will continue to strengthen aviation and reinforce its foundations to sustain its long-term sustainable growth, to secure the best possible socio-economic benefits.

For this we must understand the optimum level of activity and wealth the sector can create. Then we must  identify which are the best suited to our economic, geographical, and social dimensions.

We will take it a step beyond: we plan to make Malta a hub for training for aviation. This will cater not just to our own problems but the challenges on a global level.  As another next step, we must ensure that aviation forms part of the innovation discourse, because the sector has been all about fast innovation.

All this aligns with the vision and objectives of global and regional institutions such as the ICAO, the EUY, EASA, Eurocontrol, and IATA, amongst others. The roadmap coordinates the development of a broad spectrum of aviation activities, including maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO), air navigation services, aviation training, and business and private aviation.

But the sector only grows if a well-trained workforce supports it. A study is underway to accurately measure for the first time the direct and indirect employment in the aviation sector and identify the skills shortfalls we may have, which could become a barrier to growth in the medium to long term. We are working closely with stakeholders to establish a viable plan to address the issue of the skills gap that is faced by many.

We also studied the outcome of a first line of stakeholder consultations on the Airport Zone Strategy Plan, and now are working closely with INDIS Malta and minister Silvio Schembri to finalise the much-awaited Airport Zone Strategic Plan. This will get us a step closer to addressing the reorganisation and development of the operational setup around the airport boundaries, and the regeneration of underutilised sites into high-quality, sustainable, commercial aviation clusters.

To accommodate the ever-growing demand of general aviation operations, together with the Gozo ministry we are working to regenerate and extend the Gozo airfield so it can be used as an eco-friendly and sustainable airstrip.

Future prospects for aviation require the need to make the sector more environmentally sustainable. We will focus on a number of actions relevant to the circumstances of the Maltese islands – our airport, airspace, and the various industries and their personnel – to develop practical recommendations that fit into the local context. At the same time, we continue to discuss and negotiate the various proposals of the European Commission as part of the European Green Deal.

We have started discussing and co-ordinating national efforts towards advancing the Malta Drone Innovation Ecosystem and the pipeline of interested companies that plan to advance or start their operations in Malta. This includes sharing of updates on the work being done by Malta Enterprise, Transport Malta, MATS, and other government authorities in enhancing recreational and professional UAV operations and making the needed facilities available. We are also discussing the readiness and conditions expected by government authorities for more complex drone flights and operations in the future.

Although it is strong, I do not underestimate the difficulties this sector continues to face. My vision for this sector is a leaner, cleaner, more resilient, and more ambitious aviation industry. Our industry, businesses, economy, and country depend on it. So let’s all work together to make this possible.