‘Tulips from Amsterdam’ delay Air Malta flight instructed to take stranded Palermo passengers

Air Malta instructions to expedite Amsterdam flight back to Malta and carry passengers to Palermo thwarted by shopping delay

An Air Malta pilot who was busy purchasing flowers from an airport terminal when his flight should have been making a quick return to Malta to take stranded passengers to Palermo, is being blamed for ignoring airline instructions. 

On Monday passengers were left stranded at Malta International Airport as an Air Malta flight from Malta to Palermo was delayed by more than 19 hours. 

The flight to Palermo, KM662, was scheduled to depart Malta at 5:30am – but was then scheduled to depart Malta International Airport at 10pm. A lightning strike had prevented one airline from flying due to technical checks, and “extraordinary” levels of crew sickness led to the delay, the airline said. 

Pilots blame ground handling, staffing issues for Air Malta delays

But the 10pm flight never did leave on time – MaltaToday can confirm – because Air Malta’s plan to bring its Amsterdam flight back to Malta as fast as possible to then fly to Palermo, was thwarted after crew were said to have ignored company instructions. 

The Air Malta flight to Amsterdam was scheduled to leave Malta at 12:40pm on Monday, but was pushed to 2pm to be within the captain’s standby duty hours, a confidential source told MaltaToday. 

After a 30-minute delay due to late crew boarding, the flight left for Amsterdam. Soon after departing at 2:40pm, the flight was informed to speed up to its destination and effect a quick turnaround, that is, prepare for an earlier return from Schiphol airport back to Malta, so that it could take the stranded passengers to Palermo. 

The source who spoke to MaltaToday said the airline was hoping the plane could be back in air within 45 minutes of landing in Amsterdam. 

The plane landed in Amsterdam at 5:36pm (CET), however at 6:45pm the airplane had still not made its turnaround and was still on ground. 

MaltaToday was told that the plane had not started refuelling upon landing, and that Air Malta officials were informed the pilot had gone out to purchase flowers from inside the airport terminal before any refuelling could take place. 

The action resulted in a longer turnaround, and the plane only left Schiphol at 7:50pm. 

Yet once the plane arrived in Malta at 9:54pm, the pilot was unable to fly the next plane to Palermo of because that would breach his flight hours limit. A new crew and pilot had to be summoned to fly to Palermo; at that point the 10pm flight had to be once again delayed.

Pilots fly 75 hours of flying duty per month, as allowed by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. 

The Palermo flight only managed to leave Malta at 12:30am, resulting not just in furious passengers in Malta but also in Palermo, where disgruntled passengers had been waiting for hours without being told what was happening. 

A spokesman for Air Malta said the airline had experienced a number of unexpected challenges with scheduling. He said two aircraft had experienced technical issues, including one that was struck by lightning. There had been an unexpected number of crew members who called in sick. Air Malta later sent out a tweet apologising for the situation. “Safety remains Air Malta’s top priority.” 

Air Malta and its pilot members at the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) to delay the airline’s flights have been on frayed relations since the union took industrial action after the government failed to offer guarantees to retain an early retirement scheme that pays them €700,000 at retirement at age 55, should the airline fail. 

Ever since the signing of the collective agreement early last year, Air Malta has been in long and tough discussions with ALPA over interpretations of this agreement and other issues. 

The government has long warned that it would pass the handling of Air Malta to another government company, Malta MedAir, should pilots take debilitating action against the airline. “If the pilots threaten the operation of Air Malta at this crucial moment of the year and unless pilots change their behaviour, the operation of growth of the airline will not be undertaken through the core airline but through Malta MedAir – a company wholly owned by the Maltese government which was set up in January 2018.” 

ALPA only recently reached an agreement with Air Malta to improve its pay packages, with captains earning up to €150,000 a year, and first officers paid €100,000 a year.