Air Malta seeks American airline partnership

The Maltese Tourism Authority is making efforts to stimulate the American market, after years of silence in the U.S. market.

Air Malta is seeking to partner up with an American airline, in a move which it hopes will dig it out of the rut of operating losses in time for the EU-imposed deadline, next year.

The Maltese Tourism Authority is making efforts to stimulate the American market, after years of silence in the U.S. market.

Spearheaded by Michelle Buttigieg, MTA representative in the U.S. it hopes to rouse interest in the run-up to 2018 when Valletta becomes a European Capital of Culture. The hope is to spread the message that Malta has much more going for it than the beaches that its short-haul markets in Europe are so focused on.     

Buttigieg admits that the MTA needs to build up awareness in the U.S. “Consumer awareness is very low and so is agent awareness,” he said. “We don’t have the big budget to go after the mass market tourist in the U.S. and anyway we get that from our European markets. In the U.S. we are looking for high end travellers.”

In order to better inform both groups, the MTA has begun operating the Malta Specialist Program with Travel Agent Academy, a division of Travalliance, the publisher of TravelPulse.

Last year, Air Malta lost €16 million, largely due to competition from low-cost carriers like RyanAir. “We were losing money and we needed to cut costs,” said Joseph Galea, the airline’s deputy chief commercial officer.

In recent months the airline's financial position has improved slightly due to the drop in oil prices, but Galea thinks a longer-term solution would be for Air Malta to strike a deal with a U.S. carrier. “We are looking to create an alliance with an American carrier that serves key U.S. cities. For us, the U.S. is all about potential. It means a market that isn’t so focused in July and August,” said Galea, adding that an American alliance would add many more gateways and the flight times could be coordinated along with a seamless transference of luggage.

On the 13th of March Air Malta unveiled its summer schedule of 160 weekly flights. Between March and October the airline expects to carry 1.2 million passengers. This summer, Air Malta will operate direct-scheduled flights to 26 European gateways that are the backbone of its business.

The EU restructuring plan dictates that Air Malta must break even by next year and a strategic partner would make that more likely.

Although Europe will remain Air Malta’s core market, the introduction of an American carrier would create a less disjointed journey from the U.S. into Malta and would hopefully increase the present meagre 22,000 U.S. arrivals on the island.

American tourists may well also spread the season into the shoulder months. “Seasonality spread is a tough challenge,” said Galea. “We are creating events for January and February, but ultimately we need unique reasons to come to Malta.”