Malta’s national airline is for the “elite” while Ryanair serves the people and the tourism industry, the low-cost airline’s top brass said yesterday.  

“[The national airline] serves the political elite and the business elite but, in terms of delivering for the Maltese people and delivering for tourism, it really doesn’t have a role there,” Malta Air CEO David O’Brien said.

O’Brien was speaking beside Michael O’Leary, who is CEO of Ryanair, Malta Air’s parent company.

The two were in Malta to launch Ryanair’s Malta summer schedule, which sees three new routes introduced: Belfast, Norwich and Rome Fiumicino.

O’Leary said Maltese tourism would not be growing as quickly if not for Ryanair.  

“Air Malta is a proud airline with a distinguished history but it’s fundamentally a very small and very high-fare airline. It does connect Malta to the main cities around Europe but it’s not delivering any growth, whereas Ryanair is delivering enormous growth,” the Ryanair CEO said.  

Air Malta is set to fly for the last time on March 30. After that, a new airline, KM Malta, will take over as Malta’s national carrier.  

“It’s pretty clear it’s the same airline; there is not even a fig leaf to suggest there’s anything different; we’re not going to complain about that particularly,” O’Brien said.  

One reason the national carrier cannot do much for tourism growth is that it has few aircraft, so there is only so much they can do.   

“When you’ve got eight aircraft, it’s very hard to achieve the critical mass that you can with 570 (planes),” he said.   

'They have a niche and they should deliver on that'

“That’s not to mock them; they have a niche and they should deliver on that,” O’Brien said.  

O’Leary said that Malta used to see most of its holidaymakers in the summer and that has now changed because of Ryanair. 

“Malta has always been a tourism destination but it has always seen lots of charter flights on Saturdays during the summer and then nobody in the winter. Malta needs more than that”, the Ryanair CEO said.   

“Ryanair delivers growth and year-round connectivity and that’s the difference we make here on the island,” he said. 

Malta is now connected to more destinations than ever before, meaning people from all over are visiting the country, O’Leary said.  

He said that other low-cost airlines, like Wizz Air and Easy Jet, have only a few routes and focus on the summer season. 

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