Busuttil questions Alitalia choice and warns of ‘giving up control’ of Air Malta

Opposition leader questions choice of Alitalia for Air Malta's strategic partner, arguing that it has recently gone through a restructuring programme and that its planes don't fly to Sicily • Tourism minister says deal will see Air Malta's flights become cheaper

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil questioned the government’s decision to sell 49% of Air Malta’s shares to Alitalia, arguing that such a deal is tantamount to its giving up control over the national airline.

“We are not against the principle of a strategic partnership for Air Malta, but it would be wiser for such a partnership to take a more technical form without selling so many of the airline’s shares.”

Busuttil criticized the choice of Alitalia as a partner, arguing that it’s aeroplanes don’t even fly to Sicily.

“How can I be convinced that a company that doesn’t even connect to Sicily will improve Air Malta’s connectivity?” he asked. “Why was Alitalia chosen?”

Alitalia forms part of the satellite of airlines owned by Abu Dhabi based airline Etihad Airways, which has been in advanced talks with government over an equity investment in the ailing Air Malta since November 2015 as revealed by MaltaToday.

Busuttil questioned whether the government’s memorandum of understanding is actually with Alitalia or Etihad.

“Alitalia went through a restructuring programme itself, so does this deal mean that Air Malta’s shares are being sold to a company undergoing a restructuring programme?

“What will happen if Alitalia’s restructuring fails? Will Air Malta go down the drain with it?””

He also questioned whether Air Malta’s staff will be cut, noting that the airline’s employees are worried about the company’s future.

He criticized tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis for failing to consult with the Opposition throughout the course of its negotiations, except for a recent phone call to shadow economy minister Claudio Grech.

‘Air Malta flights will be cheaper’ – Zammit Lewis

Zammit Lewis said that the final deal will see consumes benefit from cheaper ticket prices.

“The fight in Europe’s airline market is about prices, which is why certain airlines are more successful than others. Airlines beat their competitors on price, not on services.

He hailed today’s MOU as the start of a long road that could see Air Malta become profitable and “the envy of other airlines”.

He said that the final deal will see consumers will benefit from the deal as Air Malta will be part of a larger group, with the strength of Etihad behind it and codeshare agreements around the world.

“The fight in Europe is about prices, which is why certain airlines are more successful than others. You beat airlines on price, not on services.

He said that the deal is nowhere near done and dusted and that a lot of technical points still need to be negotiated, but that the final partnership will not simply involve the sale of Air Malta’s shares.

He noted that Alitalia will this year invest €400 million in a restructuring project, thanks to Etihad.

He denied that Air Malta will become a regional airline or a feeder airline to the Rome Fiumicino airport, or that its fleet will shrink further.

Opposition MP Robert Arrigo had questioned why shares in Air Malta weren’t kept by the government and independent MP Marlene Farrugia said that the public feel an “emotional attachment” to its national airline.

However, Zammit Lewis responded that Arrigo’s proposal was imply a romantic one, and that the current airline market requires airlines to form part of a consolidated network.

“We don’t want to sell our souls but we must give Air Malta the best possible chance to expand,” he said.

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