Will Air Malta “vanish”, as Ryanair’s chief commercial officer, David O’Brien, has predicted? Whatever may have driven an official from an arrogant airline to make the remark, Air Malta has to prove him wrong.
The national air carrier is far too important for Malta to collapse and the least the people would expect is that, if the company does not break even by the target date set under the restructure plan that was agreed with the European Commission, which is next year, a strategic partner is sought to help keep the airline flying under the Air Malta banner.
Until recently, the prospects for the Maltese airline to meet the deadline set did not look good but the new approach it has adopted to catering and a sustained drop in the price of oil may improve the financial outlook.
However, the board, the management and the workforce need to redouble their efforts to save the airline for the good of all. Proving Mr O’Brien wrong will not be easy even if the circumstances are slightly more favourable today to Air Malta than was the case a few months ago.
Mr O’Brien argued that “in the aviation game, if you’re not growing, you’re in trouble and if you’re not reducing your costs, you’re also in trouble. I don’t see Air Malta doing either”.
The national carrier has managed to move forward in its drive to reduce losses but, clearly, the efforts made so far have not been enough, as the financial results show.
Last year, Air Malta made a loss of €16 million, when it should have posted a profit. The airline is projecting a loss of another €16 million this year but, through the reduction in the price of jet fuel, the figure should be reduced.
Like other airlines, Air Malta has been badly hit by the trouble in Libya but the drop in the price of jet fuel will now compensate for the fall in revenue from the Libyan route.
The recent collapse of Cyprus Airways put a damper on the Maltese airline’s future, but Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis had immediately come out saying that, while the closure of the Cypriot carrier was worrying, he did not think Air Malta would follow suit, although he did acknowledge that the national airline’s financial situation was difficult.
Air Malta chairwoman Maria Micallef, expressed the same sentiment, saying the collapse of Cyprus Airways would only strengthen their resolve to take the difficult and necessary decisions to save the airline.
Cyprus Airways collapsed after it breached EU rules on State aid. In fact, the European Commission had ordered the airline to pay back over €65 million in illegal State aid.
With all the awareness that exists for the need to save Air Malta, as it is formed now or, failing this, through a strategic partner, the country expects that no unnecessary hurdles be put in the way to the successful completion of the restructuring plan.
Saving the national air carrier is not just a matter of pride but of practical necessity for the continued well-being and growth of the economy.
Being a national airline, it is attuned to the country’s needs.
However, it will definitely take a huge collective effort to get the airline back on its feet.
Such a task requires an end to interference from the government – especially with regard to recruitment – understanding from the unions and employees as well as diligent leadership from the board of directors who must ensure that Air Malta will be in a position to fly profitably.
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