[WATCH] Updates on Alitalia, Air Malta deal ‘in the coming weeks’

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis insists government has 'nothing to hide' over proposed Air Malta-Alitalia deal, says official updates could be released 'within the coming weeks' 

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis addresses an aviation awards ceremony.
Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis addresses an aviation awards ceremony.

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Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis has said he will insist that updates on the proposed Air Malta-Alitalia deal be released “in the coming weeks”.

“The government has nothing to hide when it comes to Air Malta,” Zammit Lewis said in comments to MaltaToday. “Whereas the previous administration had refused to comment on how much Air Malta uniforms cost, we tabled our memorandum of understanding with Alitalia with Parliament. This is the first time that the country has witnessed such a transparent process of conducting state affairs.”

The MOU, which will see Alitalia acquire 49% of Air Malta’s shares, was signed back in April, but seven months later the deal remains shrouded in uncertainty. Italian newspaper Il Giornale reported last week that the deal had collapsed, and informed sources told MaltaToday that Etihad Airways – which owns 49% of Alitalia – had decided against investing in Air Malta. Zammit Lewis today was forced to deny reports that Banayoti Holdings, a private company based in Canada and the UK, was in talks with Air Malta over acquiring a 49.9% in the Maltese airline.

When asked by MaltaToday, Zammit Lewis refused to state whether the negotiations included a deadline, after which they would collapse. Instead, he insisted that the talks will continue until the government “reaches the best deal for Air Malta to progress” and that it will leave the negotiating table if the “right formula” isn’t found.

The tourism minister reiterated that the government will try and negotiate an EU derogation that will allow Malta to subsidise the national airline. However, he conceded that this will be difficult as the EU’s “one time, last time” principle forbids governments from providing state aid to the same company more than once within a period of ten years.

“The European Commission had allowed the previous administration to inject [€52 million] in state aid into Air Malta, but the government failed to meet its targets that were attached to the exemption. This has placed the current government in a tough situation, but we will leave no stone unturned when it comes to negotiations on Air Malta.”

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