Ryanair may challenge government’s €290 million Air Malta state aid request

Malta Air CEO says that the €290 million state aid government wants for Air Malta is ‘small fry’ but might still be enough for Ryanair to seek redress in European courts

Malta Air is a Ryanair subsidiary operating from Malta
Malta Air is a Ryanair subsidiary operating from Malta

Ryanair will be examining Malta’s request to the European Commission for permission to pump €290 million into Air Malta, and determining whether to object to the state aid in the European courts, Malta Air CEO David O’Brien said.

O’Brien was addressing a press conference with Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo, during which he announced that Ryanair would be adding five new routes to Malta, bringing the total to 157.

He told BusinessToday that, while Ryanair had indeed sought legal redress in European courts against state aid offered to various airlines by some EU countries, the amount being sought by Malta to bail out Air Malta could be considered ‘small fry’.

“We are much more concerned that Lufthansa has received more than €10 billion and that Air France has received more than €9 billion, despite European law prohibiting state aid,” O’Brien said.

However, he added: “That said, we will examine Malta’s application and if we think it is appropriate to object to it, we will take our objections to the European courts.”

O’Brien said that it will be up to the Maltese to see how they would be best served.

“On paper, €290 million seem like small fry, but it also sounds like a lot, amounting to around €700 for every person in Malta... That is a lot,” he said.

O’Brien praised Malta’s COVID-19 vaccination rollout, with 40% of the population having already received at least one dose, adding that this put Malta in pole position in being able to attract tourists once flights to the island resumed on 1 June.

The UK market would definitely be looking at Malta, especially if a bilateral agreement on a vaccine certification system can be reached.

“By the peak of the summer, Ryanair alone will be offering nine UK routes to Malta,” he said. “That will make Malta a very viable choice.”

At the same time, Ryanair would also be serving 18 different routes from Italy to Malta.

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