Updated 6.42pm with MATS details

'Misbehaviour' by Malta's air traffic control was leading to longer flights and fuel wastage, the CEO of Ryanair subsidiary MaltaAir, David O’Brien, claimed on Wednesday.

Speaking at a press conference about his airline's summer schedule, he said 'unprofessional' practices in the way aircraft were told to approach or take off from Malta were costing his airline and others added fuel costs.

“I’m absolutely amazed that the media has not enquired on what is going on at Malta air traffic control at the moment,” he told journalists. 

"This misbehaviour needs to end by the summer. We need to see professionalism back in place. It is a privilege to be an air traffic controller on an island with one airport, and that privilege needs to be treated with respect."  

Giving examples, he said aircraft were not being allowed to carry out a "continuous descend" approach and they had also been sent to "unnecessary holding positions" without explanation.  

"Our calculations, if you take five minutes per movement, show that seven hundred extra tons of CO2 emissions were dumped on Malta as a result," he said. 

He said he was informed that Malta armed forces training has also been disrupted by the 'misbehaviour' of the local air traffic control.

A "small group of people should not be holding the country to ransom" due to their unprofessionalism, he insisted.  

Dispute registered in January

The union in question, the Malta Air Traffic Controller's Association (MATCA), registered an industrial dispute with Malta Air Traffic Services Limited (MATS) in January after the two parties failed to reach an agreement on the renewal of the collective agreement. 

"MATCA rejected the company’s generous offer and ordered industrial action with effect from last January," Claude Mallia, CEO of MATS told Times of Malta.

Mallia said MATS has referred the dispute, which he described as  "uncalled for and illegitimate", to the Industrial Tribunal. 

"Even though the dispute is pending adjudication by the Tribunal, the air traffic controllers have not withdrawn their industrial action, and the company is doing its utmost to minimise the impact of their illegitimate industrial action."

Strikes should not impact over-flights 

O’Brien also spoke about the impact of industrial action which affected flights. Giving an example of recent strikes by French air traffic controllers affecting flights going through French air space, he said Ryanair was calling on the European Commission, the European Parliament, and anyone who was willing to listen, to ensure that overflights over France were protected.

"If they want to have a strike go ahead, but not at the detriment of the freedom of movement, and the detriment of other flights,” he said. 

Change in aviation tax could harm Malta 

O’Brien also hit out at plans for a so-called 'aviation tax' in Europe, warning it would be detrimental to Malta, which relies heavily on aviation for its tourism and international links. 

The proposed taxes are part of the EU’s “Fit for 55” plan, aimed to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 per cent by 2030. 

The EU is proposing a progressive fuel tax on aviation fuel supplied in the EU for intra-EU flights which will start from 0% in 2023 increasing by a yearly 10% to reach 100% over a period of 10 years.

O’Brien said Malta, along with other countries such as Ireland, Spain and Cyprus, must stand against the policy.

Air Malta also raised the alarm last year, highlighting that the proposal will have a negative impact on the Maltese Island’s economic and social cohesion and isolate the Islands. 

“Remarkably, this aviation taxation excludes all the traffic going in and out of Frankfurt, Munich and Paris, but not Malta,” he said. 

“Long haul flights will pay zero in terms of aviation fuel taxes. Long-haul accounts for more than 50 percent of all European aviation emissions and is excluded from the plans.”

He said he has spoken to ministers on this issue, and highlighted that Malta must use its voice against this tax. 

“Environmentally friendly airlines, like Ryanair groups, who fly the most modern aircraft, fly point-to-point, and fly full, our carbon footprint is significantly lower than anyone else, should be awarded not penalised.” 

'Industrial action impinging on island's attractiveness' - MIA

Reacting to O'Brien's comments, Malta International Aiport CEO Alan Borg said that industrial action by air traffic controllers, which impacted all airlines operating from Malta, was also impinging on the island’s attractiveness.

"This industrial action, which has environmental as well as financial implications, is massively incongruous with the recent efforts of the aviation industry to mitigate its impact on the climate and the environment," he said.


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