Harbour Air halted seaplane service for the summer

Gozo Tourism Association says halt of service shows need for fixed-wing transport and new airstrip.

The single-engined Otter used to cross Gozo to Malta.
The single-engined Otter used to cross Gozo to Malta.

The operators of Malta's only fixed-wing connection to Gozo, Harbour Air Seaplanes, have "temporarily stopped operating" but plans to continue are in the pipeline, according to company director Alfie Manduca.

Asked the reason why the service has been stopped for the summer, Manduca said that he wouldn't like to reveal his plans, limiting his answer having "bigger plans in mind."

"I obviously cannot reveal my business plan since it's sensitive information however all I can say is the reason is because we want to expand our business, with the intention of not only continuing the service some time soon but expanding it also."

Manduca denied suggestions that the service was stopped due to a lack of clients.

Harbour Air Seaplanes operates daily scenic flights around Malta and Gozo from the Valletta Waterfront and The Strand, Sliema, by means of a single-engined Otter.

The seaplane can accommodate up to 14 passengers and has specially modified bubble windows which is perfect for sightseeing and photography.  

The service used to be run on a daily basis since 2007, was backed by Harbour Air Inc. of Canada as its partner, the largest seaplane operator in the world with over 25 years experience in the field.

Business Today had interviewed Manduca and former director Winston Azzopardi back in 2007 and had been quoted as saying that "the service is not exclusively dependent on tourism and it is not aimed to replace the helicopter because it is a different service altogether. It can be considered as just another means of transport to Gozo".

The Gozo-Malta helicopter service operated by the Spanish company Helisureste had also got the chop after incurring heavy losses in the operation of the service.

Helisureste embarked on operations between Malta and Gozo on March 27, 2005 after the previous operator, Malta Aircharter, closed its business six months earlier.

Meanwhile, plans by a British couple residing in Gozo earlier this year to man a fixed-wing service operating between Gozo and Malta didn't materialise.

Plans by a British couple residing in Gozo earlier this year to man a fixed-wing service operating between Gozo and Malta didn't materialise either.

Gozo Tourism Association CEO Joe Muscat said the association is sticking to its guns and insisting on the importance of an airstrip in Gozo.

Muscat said that the both the service of a seaplane and helicopter were not the ideal solution to guarantee a long-term consistent, reliable and viable service.

"The problem of the seaplane was that tourists making use of the service who arrived at Malta International Airport were having to be transferred to the Grand Harbour from the airport to be able to make use of the seaplane service, and then finally transferred once again to the Mgarr port to reach the destination of Gozo. Besides, the plane was not flying at nighttime and it cannot take off or land in rough seas."

Muscat said that operating a helicopter was not financially sustainable and the service required the input of a subsidy from some authority or other in order for it to be able to run in a sustainable and competitive manner.

"Today the community is more interested in a fixed-wing type of operation which is far more sustainable financially. There seems to be an interest from the private sector in Gozo regarding this issue but this couldn't materialise without an airstrip," Muscat said.

This once again raises the issue of double insularity Gozo faces where movement of people, import, export, and other economic activities that are vital for the island's quality of life and economic performance, are concerned.

"We have reached the stage that an airstrip in Gozo is not an option any longer but a need," Muscat said.

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Mhux suppost skond Lady Giovanna Debono, Ghawdex se jkun EcoGozo. Allura dawn kif jridu airstrip ? Nahseb ciao ciao air service ghal darba ohra.
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norman ciancio
Halt operations because they want to get bigger??? Mela ADDIO wkoll dawn nahseb.

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