Updated | Pilots call on MIA to cover Air Malta losses incurred during blackout

Airline Pilots Association says airlines, especially Air Malta, incurred huge losses after the airport’s power backup system failed to work properly • MIA 'rules out speculation' generators were not properly maintained or out of diesel

The Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) has called on the Malta International Airport to make good for the losses incurred by national airline Air Malta after backup power supply at the airport failed to work for at least 25 minutes.

Malta International Airport experienced technical difficulties with its generators during Tuesday’s nationwide power outage forcing MIA to suspend apron and runway operations for 25 minutes.  ALPA has now claimed that operations were suspended for more than 25 minutes.

A system of generators at the airport failed to work properly, forcing incoming flights to be diverted to Catania and Palermo for approximately an hour and 45 minutes.

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis has now demanded a series of technical reports over the incident.

“ALPA-Malta acknowledges the huge amounts of losses incurred by airlines, especially Air Malta, and we are thus calling on MIA to cover these losses. Clearly, MIA failed to honour their obligations, in that they failed to provide the required level of service to ensure the continuous smooth operation of the airport during the power outage,” the pilots said.

ALPA urged MIA to immediately come up to terms with their priorities: “Rather than focus on boasting about passenger numbers and opening further retail outlets, MIA should invest the necessary amount of money and resources into ensuring that the necessary equipment and procedures are in place, so as to avoid a repeat of last Tuesday’s fiasco.”

In a reaction, MIA said it was conducting an inquiry to understand what caused its power generators to malfunction last Tuesday during the nationwide blackout.

The investigation so far has ruled out speculation that the generators were not properly maintained or out of diesel.

“We carried out a simulation of the exact same scenario within 48 hours, without any adjustments to the terminal generators, and the system worked without a hitch,” said a spokesman for MIA. 

MIA reiterated that following the nationwide blackout on Tuesday, it suspended its runway operations for 25 minutes during which no flight operations would have been disrupted. However, Air Traffic Control kept the runway closed for a further 1 hour and 45 minutes citing safety precautions. 

“MIA will work to ensure, within the shortest time possible, that it can guarantee continuity in similar occurrences. Once again we apologise to all our stakeholders and passengers for the inconvenience caused.”

Malta International Airport thanked the pilots’ union for its interest in the blackout incident but said that if any discussions were to take place on redress, these would be held between the airport and the airlines affected. 

The pilots thanked its members and Air Malta workers for working around the unprecedented power outage at the airport and ensured that all inbound diverted flights eventually returned back to Malta while outbound flights were still operated.

ALPA said the obvious delays were beyond Air Malta’s control.

In total, four inbound Air Malta flights had to be diverted to Catania and Palermo, while the returning Catania flight was itself stranded.

An outbound flight to Moscow incurred a long delay, and a flight to St. Petersburg had to be re-crewed again as the delay made it impossible for the crew to operate within legal flight time limitations, despite the crew granting an allowable extension to their duty limits.

“Diversions and delays are additional and unnecessary financial burdens on airlines. While ALPA-Malta understands that occasional power outages can occur, an international airport should have the appropriate working infrastructure to ensure a continuous service, irrespective of the power supply from the national generation plants. Tuesday's events are unacceptable,” the pilots reiterated.

In a statement released on Wednesday, MIA pledged to avoid a repeat of the power generators problems. However, ALPA argued that the backup systems should have ensured that the airport operations remained unaffected throughout the entire blackout period.

“Operations were halted for much longer than the stated 25 minutes, as evidenced by the extensive delays and diversions. ALPA-Malta’s first and foremost priority remains safety, and we fully understand Malta Air Traffic Services’ reluctance to resume airport operations without MIA ensuring the provision of reliable technical services, including reliable runway lighting.”

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