[WATCH] Nationalist Party vows to help save Air Malta, minister says he's not after quick-fix solutions

The Nationalist Party will continue putting forward proposals on how Air Malta could be boosted with local investment and a greater participation by workers, according to shadow economy minister Claudio Grech

Any possible strategic partnership need not involve a transfer of 49% of the national airline's share - Claudio Grech (Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Any possible strategic partnership need not involve a transfer of 49% of the national airline's share - Claudio Grech (Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday)
Nationalist Party vows to help save Air Malta

The Nationalist Party would remain proactive and will continue putting forward proposals in the coming months on how Air Malta could be boosted with local investment and a greater participation by workers, shadow economy minister Claudio Grech said. 

Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday

Grech, who was adressing a press conference at PN headquarters in Hamrun on Tuesday, with Antoine Grech and Censu Galea, said any possible strategic partnership, as that sought with Alitalia, need not involve a transfer of 49% of the national airline's share.

Last Friday, tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis announced the government had ended negotiations with the Italian airline, itself partly owned by Etihad Airways. 

"The concept and function of Air Malta is too big for us to let it fail," Grech said. "We once again offer our full cooperation, within the parameters of the very limited information we have been made privy to."

Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday

He said the PN had asked the minister to publish the airline's financial accounts for 2015 and 2016 and to say what progress had been made on the restructuring plan. 

Grech said the company should explain whether it was really operating with only six aircraft. 

"The Air Malta brand is suffering from the company's use of third-party aircraft through its wet-leasing exercise," he said. "This is compounded with the competition posed by low-cost carriers, especially if it is being disadvantaged because of terminal charges and other concessions granted to the low-cost airlines."

Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday

Antoine Borg said the debate in parliament on Monday had raised more concerns than before, particularly for all those in the local tourism sector.

"It is not enough for the minister to tell us not to worry about Air Malta because tourism should be strong again this year," he said. 

Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday
Photo by James Bianchi/MediaToday

Galea urged the minister to explain clearly what he meant by his promise to "give birth to a new Air Malta", which he had stated in his ministerial statement in parliament.

He said airline workers and their families were more worried now after the minister's statement, since Zammit Lewis had failed to provide details on why the negotiations with Alitalia had failed and what the government planned to do. 

We're not after quick-fix solutions

In reaction, tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis rubbished the PN’s claims, saying that he has always been transparent about Air Malta and pointed out that Monday’s ministerial statement was the third he made in 10 months.

“It is ironic to hear Claudio Grech talk about Air malta given that he was a close aide of former minister Austin Gatt who is one of the people responsible for the driving Air malta to the brink,” the statement said.

Zammit Lewis said that the other opposition spokesperson who addressed the press, Antoine Borg, was responsible for the PN’s finances before the election, adding “therefore, the public can tell what credibility the PN has on Air Malta.”

While noting that the 2013 PN electoral programme, authored by opposition leader Simon Busuttil, made no mention of Air Malta, Zammit Lewis said that the former airline chairman appointed by the previous PN government had admitted that the only way forward was a strategic agreement.
“Why did the previous government sit on this? Why is it now talking about local investment?” Zammit Lewis asked.

Accusing the opposition of playing to the gallery, the minister said unlike previous administrations, the Labour government will not ignore the problems at Air Malta and will do its utmost to make the airline commercially viable.  

“We’re not after quick-fix solutions but after a serious long-term solution that will safeguard jobs at Air Malta,” the minster said.  

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