The search for a strategic partner for Air Malta will go on even if the airline breaks even, Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said in an interview.

He refused to confirm or deny that talks are being held with Turkish Airlines and Chinese airline, Hainan, saying that is  commercially sensitive information.

"We are examining all options for cooperation. A strategic partnership does not necessarily have to include an acquisition of equity," he said.

"The government wants to remain in absolute control of Air Malta because it is not just a strategic asset for tourism but fulfils certain social obligations. Air Malta is experiencing difficulties like many other airlines in Europe and we are talking to various airlines. 

"There are different levels of cooperation and at this stage we are examining everything, including the proposal by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association to rope in Maltese investors similar to the Bank of Valletta model.

"This is being done within the context of a restructuring plan agreed with the EU and on which we have not given up. But Air Malta’s business model has to change irrespective of which direction we take," the minister said.

Asked about Air Malta’s attraction for any strategic partner he mentioned Malta’s geographic position close to the North African market and Air Malta's good time slots in major European airports like Heathrow and Fiumicino.

Dr Zammit Lewis said the government is committed to the restructuring process agreed with the European Commission.

"The plan had a series of goals that had to be achieved and this government found a situation where not all targets were being met. Over the past year the airline started tackling those areas. We are determined to push through with the changes necessary to become a competitive airline. But March 2016 is not the apocalypse and the Commission will not be coming here with a checklist to determine what has been achieved or not," he said.

"The main target is for Air Malta to have enough cash flow to continue operating without government help. This is why we are focussing on achieving greater fleet efficiency, which created so much controversy. The baguette issue was another such decision. Under the terms of the restructuring process agreed by the previous administration, Air Malta was bound to remove onboard catering. Renegotiating the catering contract meant Air Malta saved €9 million in 27 months."

See the full interview in The Sunday Times of Malta and excepts above.

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