KM Malta Airlines has been told to ensure that cabin crew aboard flights can speak Maltese,  Robert Abela told journalists on Tuesday.

“I gave clear instructions to the new national airline to ensure that the Maltese language is used [aboard],” the prime minister said in reply to questions. “I expect cabin crew to be able to speak Maltese when I am on the Maltese national airline.”

He said the airline had “assured him” that would be the case.

Abela was answering questions about a KM Malta Airlines decision to drop Maltese proficiency as a requirement for cabin crew hires.

Robert Abela speaking about KM Malta Airlines. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

The airline confirmed on Monday that it would not require applicants to speak both English and Maltese, as Air Malta did. The airline is understood to have made that change to widen the pool of prospective recruits for cabin crew jobs.

That prompted strident criticism from the Nationalist Party, which said it was “shameful” for a national carrier to not require in-flight staff to speak the country’s primary language.

Answering a Times of Malta question on Tuesday, Abela said he wanted state agencies to treat the Maltese language with respect and safeguard it.

A KM Malta Airlines spokesperson told Times of Malta that it would be ensuring at least one cabin crew member on each flight speaks Maltese. 

"Within a cabin crew operating team of 4-5 staff, KM Malta Airlines will always have crew who have good knowledge of spoken Maltese, but the airline may on certain routes, decide to enhance its in-flight language skillset for the benefit of its many foreign customers," a spokesperson said. 

The spokesperson said KM Malta Airlines "is totally committed to adopt the Maltese language as its first language" and would be working with the National Maltese language council [Il-Kunsill Nazzjonali Tal-Ilsien Malti] to develop a "clear and updated language policy" to ensure both English and Maltese is present throughout its different media. 

KM Malta Airlines takes to the skies. Video: Matthew Mirabelli

Speaking on Tuesday, Abela said he had also spoken with the principal permanent secretary to ensure that Maltese is also used for signage at government buildings and projects.

“Let’s value and safeguard the language that gives us a unique identity,” he said.

Abela stopped short of mentioning specific examples, though he may have been alluding to social media chatter about signage at state agency Identità – which was rebranded from Identity Malta to emphasise its Maltese roots – only being in English.

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