[WATCH] Tourism Minister hints at 15 June for reopening of Malta International Airport

Government is working on safety protocols with the health authorities for reopening of Malta International Airport, Julia Farrugia Portelli says

Malta International Airport has been lifeless since all travel was banned in March to stop the spread of COVID-19
Malta International Airport has been lifeless since all travel was banned in March to stop the spread of COVID-19

The airport could reopen on 15 June but this depends on whether the health authorities believe it is safe to do so, Julia Farrugia Portelli has hinted.

The target date was set from the very first day, the Tourism Minister said, adding all stakeholders agreed that a confirmation is needed as soon as possible.

Farrugia Portelli said the Prime Minister will be announcing an official date for reopening the airport in the coming days.

“We have always said the airport should be closed until 15 June but we will continue assessing this with the health authorities,” she said on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday night, in what was a strong hint that government is targeting a mid-June reopening.

Farrugia Portelli reiterated that there will be a summer. “It will be a safer summer than ever before,” she said, adding that safety protocols will be introduced once the airport reopens.

Tourism operators have been clamouring for the reopening of the airport and lifting of travel restrictions to encourage tourism. All travel was shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Malta in March.

Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli
Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli

“Malta is at a very advanced stage of opening its airport. We worked with the local and international health authorities to ensure that we will have all the necessary protocols in place so that when we open our airport we will do so in a safe manner,” the Tourism Minister said. 

However, Opposition spokesperson Robert Arrigo called for more clarity from the government, arguing that operators within the tourism industry need to be informed well in advance in order to be able to plan ahead.

“The question is if Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Italy, Portugal were given a date three weeks ago of when they’re going to open, why shouldn’t we in Malta be given a date?” Arrigo asked. 

Nonetheless, when asked what date the Opposition would put forward, Arrigo insisted that this should be left in the hands of the health authorities. 

“It is the health authorities who can give us a date. When they think that it is safe, they can give us a date,” he insisted.

The PN MP praised the fact that the virus had been controlled, and insisted that the important thing was for the industry to open. Arrigo noted that this sector has just emerged from the winter period, during which it lost money, and is now facing a turbulent and uncertain summer.

This sentiment was shared by Malta Hotels Restaurants Association CEO Andrew Agius Muscat, and Association of Catering Establishments President Reuben Buttigieg.

“We spoke of the coronavirus wave but now we need to be careful not to end up facing an unemployment wave,” Agius Muscat said as he warned that the longer it takes to open the airport, the direr the consequences will be. 

Agius Muscat said the time has come for people to be allowed to work once more, as he called for the airport to be reopened on 15 June.

Buttigieg noted that although restaurants have reopened, customer turnout has been quite low, with the average rate of purchase only being around 7% of what it was before.

“With the number of restaurants that we have in Malta - exceeding 3,400 - it is certain that the Maltese population alone cannot sustain them,” he said.

Air Malta confident it can meet demands of post-COVID market

Air Malta chairperson Charles Mangion said the airline was confident it would be able to service the demand once the airport reopens.

“Once the airport is open - not just ours, but those abroad as well - we will be ready,” he said. 

Mangion said that the airline is working closely with the authorities, and is already planning flight schedules, as well as looking at the possibility of travelling to new destinations if this becomes necessary. 

The chairman spoke of the airline’s plans to tackle competitive markets by working with hoteliers to offer dynamic packages so as to encourage tourists, as well as putting more emphasis on marketing, and collaboration between the different stakeholders.