Minister dismisses ‘speculation’ over Air Malta’s sale to Hainan Airlines

Edward Zammit Lewis insists that any deal on Air Malta's future will see the government retain its majority shareholding in the airline.

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis has denied that the government could sell off Air Malta to Hainan Airlines.

PN newspaper Il-Mument claimed on Sunday that the government is negotiating with Hainan Airlines over the future of Air Malta and that the Chinese airline is interested in purchasing the entire company.

However, Zammit Lewis insisted with MaltaToday that any deal will see the government retain its majority shareholding in the national airline.

“Il-Mument has long been speculating about Air Malta’s future,” he said, recounting how the newspaper had reported in November that the government was ready to sell off Air Malta to Air China. “They can’t be relied on for proper news.”

Zammit Lewis and Air Malta chairperson Maria Micallef travelled to Beijing last month to discuss “issues of collaboration” concerning the national airline.

The tourism minister confirmed with MaltaToday that the talks were held with a private airline but refused to confirm or deny that the airline in question was Hainan, China’s largest private carrier.

“Negotiations are at a delicate and sensitive stage, so I’m not in a position to release any information,” he said.

Air Malta is in the final year of a five-year restructuring plan that the previous government had agreed with the European Commission in 2012 in return for its approval of around €130 million in state aid. The carrier was forced to trim its staff, reduce its number of operating planes, and cut capacity. Yet it has fallen way short of its restructuring targets, registering a €16 million loss for the year ending March 2014 when it was supposed to have reached profitability.

Micallef has warned that the airline will not become financially sustainable unless it rethinks its business model.

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