Updated | Mizzi: Air Malta will seek alternatives to fly to New York in absence of pilots’ agreement

Tourism Minister Konrd Mizzi said that agreeing to pilots’ demands would amount to state aid and was not even acceptable under EU law

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi said that Air Malta would have to look elsewhere to sustain its growth strategy if an agreement with its pilots remains elusive
Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi said that Air Malta would have to look elsewhere to sustain its growth strategy if an agreement with its pilots remains elusive

Air Malta will be forced to make alternative arrangements to operate future long-haul flights, if it fails to reach an agreement with ALPA, its pilots union.

Speaking at a press conference marking the arrival of the airline’s latest aircraft, tourism minister Konrad Mizzi insisted that Air Malta was planning further expansions of its route network, including medium and long-haul flights.

However, in the absence of an agreement with the union, he said Air Malta would be forced to look elsewhere to operate the flights.

“An agreement will ensure the airline can keep growing. The reality is that the company has agreed with ALPA on all points, however ALPA is still insisting on some form of guarantee by the government on pilots’ retirement. We have explained that we can’t do this, because it is not standard practice – it’s not right – and it isn’t permitted by state aid regulations,” Mizzi said.  

He said that in the coming months, Air Malta will find itself at a crossroad since it will need to decide on a fleet of aircraft to operate medium to long-haul flights.

“We are currently evaluating the possibility of having an extended range aircraft, an Airbus A321 that can get us to New York, but to get to this stage, we must ensure that the collective agreements in place allow this aircraft to be operated.”

In the absence of such reassurances, Mizzi said that the airline would have to look elsewhere to operate the aircraft through another company.

Back in January, the government set up an airline called Malta MedAir which currently holds, Air Malta’s lucrative slots at Heathrow and Gatwick airports.

Earlier this summer, Mizzi had said that if problems persisted with the ALPA, MedAir could step in and take over Air Malta’s growth plan.

Extraordinary sick leave levels

Mizzi went on to say that Air Malta was being weighed down by pilots’ refusal to cooperate, noting that 12 pilots had called in sick on Saturday alone.

“This is not an industry norm, when you compare the number of people who are duty today and the number of people on sick leave you realise it is not the norm,” Mizzi said.

He appealed to the union, insisting that “the future looks bright” if all parties can work towards the same goal.

He said that Air Malta would be turning a profit for the second year running however there needed to be cooperation from all employees for this to be sustained going forward.

Sick leave claims intended to cover up mismanagement – union

In a reaction, ALPA said that the allegations were an attempt by Air Malta to “mask the actual state of affairs and the gross mismanagement at the higher tiers of the company”.

“It is no secret that Air Malta’s mismanagement has reached unprecedented levels of incompetence and that this state of affairs is leading to the national airline into turbulence with its passengers and crew,” ALPA said.

It added that during September of last year, Air Malta had claimed that had had been a 1000% increase in crew sickness – “a false claim which has, to date, not been corroborated by any form of evidence”.

It said the allegations were solely intended cover up for the “incompetence of the select few who were appointed to steer our national airline into the path of self-destruction”.

“To the best of our knowledge, no formal investigation has been launched in order to corroborate the veracity of the said allegations,” the union said.

“ALPA urges the airline to treat any such reports with the requisite level of seriousness expected thereof, as well as to launch a formal investigation into the underlying causes of the fatigue or ill-health which may be reported by any of our members. This, in order to prevent the materialisation of internationally-recognised flight safety risks.”

READ MORE: Pilots threaten strike over early retirement guarantee in case of Air Malta failure

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