[WATCH] Air Malta hives off ground handling operations

A new government company has been set up to take control of ground handling operations, servicing Air Malta and other airlines

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi (Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Air Malta hives off ground handling operations

Ground handling operations at Air Malta have been hived off into a newly-set up government company, which will be servicing Air Malta and other airlines, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi announced today.

An agreement was reached in the recent hours with the General Workers' Union, which represents some 400 to 500 ground handlers. The sections affected are the Ground Handling Service Operations Section, the Ground Equipment Maintenance Section, and the Cargo Operations section. The new company will provide services to Air Malta and other airlines.

It was ensured that the employment conditions of all employees are safeguarded.

The agreement was concluded after several discussions led by President Emeritus George Abela, Air Malta chairman Charles Mangion Ronald Mizzi, permanent secretary, and GWU secretary general Josef Bugeja and Sandro Vella.

The hiving-off of these operations means that Air Malta's workforce will now stand at some 600 workers.

The new company will not only continue to service Air Malta but will also service other airlines, with projections to grow, Mizzi said.

The creation of the new company also means a substantial cut to costs that appear directly on the airline's books.

“The new company will have a new business plan in order to generate further growth, investment in new equipment, and generate new business,” Mizzi said.

Mangion added that the airline company would be focusing more on its core business of flight operations.

Mizzi last week said he would break up Air Malta to re-create the company from the ground up if unions insist on unsustainable salary demands.

The government, along with the Air Malta management and the various unions,

are negotiating collective agreements for employees set to come into force on 1 January 2018.

Under Konrad Mizzi’s stewardship, Air Malta has embarked on aggressive business plan meant to ensure that the airline can survive on its own steam, without government subsidies.

In 2012, the European Commission green-lit a €260 million state funding tranche.

Talks between the government and airline unions are strained: demands from the Union of Cabin Crew and the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) are now entering a tight deadlock.

The UCC wants a 10% increase on salaries, while the pilots are demanding 30%.

Mizzi has indicated he will not accept “unsustainable” demands for salary increases.

“The taxpayers cannot keep injecting more money into the airline,” Mizzi told MaltaToday on Tuesday morning.

To sustain its revenues, the airline needs to sell over a million tickets more each year. Increasing the airbus fleet, introducing new products and correcting the balance sheet will not be enough if there an internal effort is not made, the minister argued.

“We want to give workers a fair package and we are offering increases over five years.  We have offered the maximum we can give… we have to be reasonable,” Mizzi said.

He argued that pilots had to increase flight times whilst cabin crew members on board a flight should go down from five to four.

“It is with a sense of responsibility that I say that everyone needs to come together or the airline will fail. We are all bound by responsible choices.”