Updated at 5.30pm, at 7pm with PN statement

Unions representing Air Malta workers were officially told today that the Alitalia deal is off.

The unions were told that the talks were over during a meeting this afternoon with Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and the airline's management. President Emeritus George Abela, who was appointed by the government to serve as facilitator between management and unions was also present.

Photo: Kurt SansonePhoto: Kurt Sansone

After the meeting, Dr Zammit Lewis said that the next step was for the government to initiate discussions with several other airlines that had expressed an interest in becoming strategic partners in the airline. The government, he said, was not excluding anything, not even Maltese investment.

He would not delve into the reasons which led the government to decide now and not months ago to bring talks with Alitalia to an end. However, he said the government had long reiterated its stand that it would decide in the best interest of workers, the airline and the country. 

"I want to put workers' minds at rest that the airline will continue to function in the weeks and months ahead."

Asked whether a decision on Air Malta's future would be taken before the election, the minister said decisions would continue to be taken as they have been for the past three years. He highlighted the controversial decisions to axe the Frankfurt and Manchester routes as an example.

The announcement that talks were over was made simultaneously in Malta and in Italy.

Dr Zammit Lewis will give a ministerial statement in Parliament on Monday

Negotiations with the Italian airline had been going on since last April.

Today's development comes as influential Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that Alitalia needs €1 billion to recover.

The Maltese government has been eyeing a strategic partner for Air Malta following a five-year EU-mandated restructuring plan. The government has been pouring millions into the national airline amid constant losses. 

Deal failure reflects government's lack of vision - PN

In a statement, the Nationalist Party said that the failure of the talks was confirmation of the Labour government’s lack of vision, as a result of which Air Malta workers were facing uncertainty.

Workers and the airline, it said, were having to shoulder the burden of the government’s lack of vision.

The PN said that the most important thing at this stage was placing the airline on solid foundations for workers to focus on their work and not be left in uncertainty.

The government should not continue to insist on routes which did not lead anywhere and should welcome the proposals of the Nationalist Party and all the partners for the airline to be strengthened with local investment.

Since the very beginning, the PN had insisted that while it agreed there should be collaboration with a strategic partner, the choice of Alitalia was not a wise one and it was clear that the process would not have led anywhere.

It never made sense for the government to put up workers’ expectations when Alitalia was itself in financial problems, the PN said.

Air Malta had a high strategic and economic value and no time should be wasted in processes which only increased problems, the PN said.

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