Small economies face a shared challenge: the diversification of economic activities to reduce the risks of a slump arising from a decline in one particular sector. It is, therefore, not unusual for policymakers to redefine their strategies aimed at promoting investment in new economic activities.
In a presentation to a national aviation conference, former European commissioner and chair of the aviation advisory committee, Karmenu Vella, launched a new aviation strategy that seeks sustainable growth within the industry by “striking the right balance between economic, social and environmental dimensions”.
The policy has five strategic pillars, including “capacity building”. One of the “imminent needs” identified in the new aviation strategy is the investment to make Malta “a training hub for the industry”.
So, what is new in this revived strategic plan? If one strips the usual glitzy buzzwords and obvious public relations focus found in most strategic documents, the idea of promoting Malta as a hub for aviation services is not new. In 2015, then tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis told the 4th Annual Mediterranean Business Aviation conference that “the government acknowledges the aviation sector’s contribution to the Maltese economy. We aim to make Malta a training hub for the aviation industry, where people from all over the world can learn or train in various aviation jobs and disciplines”.
This vision has been partially achieved in the last decade.
Philip Apap Bologna is the founder of BizAv Services Ltd, an aviation consultancy and training firm. In 2020, he told an online business media operator: “We are starting to use Malta’s full potential as a training hub. With that comes the opportunity to promote Malta as a destination for aviation training.”
Aviation hub services are on the radar of many large and small countries as their ability to serve the ever-growing airline industry makes it a potentially sustainable and environmentally friendly economic activity. India, which may soon overtake China in population growth, is liberalising its aviation services. In 2021, it granted a licence to eight new flying training academies to attract business from local and global airlines seeking budget-friendly training facilities.
Neighbouring Greece is also promoting the aviation services hub concept. In 2022, the Dutch Avion Group, which also operates a training facility in Malta, established a new training centre near Athens International Airport.
Strategic documents are as good as the ability of organisations and policymakers to turn blue-sky thinking into reality. For too long, national economic strategies have failed to bring about the kind of economic innovation that the country needs to promote sustainable growth.
More than a decade ago, the political administration launched the idea of Malta becoming the Silicon Valley of the Mediterranean. We invested heavily in SmartCity, which essentially turned out to be a property development project.
More recently, the American University of Malta venture promised to turn Malta into a global centre of educational excellence, with little evidence that this objective has been achieved. Malta has also been branded as the Blockchain Island but it never gained any tangible results in this field.
The revival of Malta’s ambition to become an aviation industry hub is encouraging. But the acid test of the validity of this ambition will be the ability of the government to implement the tough measures needed to create the competitive advantages that will encourage investment in this sector.