Minister plans upgrade in Air Malta planes after deal with new partner

Edward Zammit Lewis insists Air Malta should have found a strategic partner 20 years ago, says new deal will see national airline 'become more relevant'

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis said he plans to see Air Malta operate a fleet of larger and better equipped aeroplanes once a deal is secured with a strategic partner, strongly rumoured to be Etihad Airways.

Speaking during a parliamentary debate on a tourism bill, Zammit Lewis pledged that a future deal will definitely see Air Malta maintain its brand name and the majority maintain majority shareholding in the airline.

Insisting that Air Malta should have found such a strategic partner 20 years ago, the tourism minister hit out at previous authorities for playing pass the parcel with the airlines future – “sweeping problems under the carpet for successors to clean up”.

Responding to concerns by shadow economy Claudio Grech that the new deal could see Air Malta reduced to a regional airline, Zammit Lewis insisted that it will not “become a feeder airline for a larger one” and that any deal will see the national airline become more relevant.

“We intend to see Air Malta become more relevant through this strategic partnership – maintaining its importance in bringing tourists to Malta, while opening up long-haul markets.”

Insisting that Air Malta should have found such a strategic partner 20 years ago, the tourism minister hit out at previous authorities for playing pass the parcel with the airlines future – “sweeping problems under the carpet for successors to clean up”.

He confirmed that aircraft ground handling was a focus of the ongoing negotiations but didn’t expand on whether government will maintain control over the operations.

“Many airlines outsource their ground handling operations to separate companies, but I ensure the current employees that their jobs and work conditions are secure,” he said.

Pledging to keep Air Malta employees more in the loop over developments, he said that he has often found himself caught between the need to keep certain information confidential due to the sensitivity of negotiations and the need to inform staff of developments that will affect their future

He admitted that new collective agreements are being negotiated with Air Malta’s unions “in context with the airline’s new strategic partner”.

“Who will invest in a company without prior knowledge of the industrial relations of its staff?” he questioned.

He said that Air Malta registered a €16.4 million for the year, largely due to the closure of the Libya route and a drastic drop in passengers from Russia following the imposition of Western sanctions.

He dismissed reports that Air Malta is saving money from low fuel costs – arguing that the airline procures a sizable amount of its fuel through hedging contracts, and the rest at spot prices – the savings of which were nevertheless countered by the dollar’s increased strength against the euro.

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