Air Malta received €58 million for its airport slots, airline chairman Charles Mangion confirmed to the Times of Malta.

The figure is very much in line with the expected value of the slots mentioned over the past year – and he said it was confirmed by an independent valuation.

The slots – the most valuable being Heathrow and Gatwick – have been bought by another government company and will be leased back to Air Malta for 20 years, with an option to renew for a further 20 years, he explained.

The circular arrangement avoided any controversy as it should not be seen as a government subsidy, he said.

The British airport authorities have already approved the transfer of the slots but the European Commission had raised various issues which the government had replied to, and it is now awaiting a definitive answer.

Air Malta’s well-timed slots at Heathrow and Gatwick are considered to be the airline’s best assets, especially since the headquarters were sold off for €66 million.

Air Malta’s well-timed slots at Heathrow and Gatwick are considered to be the airline’s best assets.Air Malta’s well-timed slots at Heathrow and Gatwick are considered to be the airline’s best assets.

However, slots come with a number of conditions, including their use. Had the airline gone under – its liabilities were €64.6 million more than its assets at the end of March 2017 – the slots would have been lost.

It is not unusual for an airline’s slots to be viewed with great interest by other airlines: both Niki Aid and Air Berlin last year had investors lining up because of the slots they controlled.

Airport slots can only be held by a company with an air operating certificate – which in turn can only be awarded to a company with a plane.

This was sorted out by setting up a second airline which has now got its AOC certificate, Mr Mangion confirmed.

Air Malta will now lease an aircraft to the new company and then lease it back.

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