Air Malta employees, particularly cabin and cockpit crew, are getting “edgy” over the shape and direction a new airline registered by the government is taking, civil aviation industry sources said.
When Malta MedAir was registered last year, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi had said it was to take over and administer Air Malta’s landing rights and slots in particular airports, mainly the lucrative London rights.
Initially, trade unions representing Air Malta staff were assured by the government that the new company would principally have a role in “an accounting exercise” aimed at balancing the books of the national airline. However, recent developments at MedAir are raising eyebrows, even giving rise to fears that other plans might be in the pipeline, they noted.
MedAir, run by former Malta Tourism Authority CEO Paul Bugeja, is now recruiting technical staff and also plans to introduce a helicopter service between Malta and Gozo, sources close to trade unions representing Air Malta employees told Times of Malta.
“This,” they added, “might be the beginning of a plan by Dr Mizzi to develop MedAir into a fully-fledged airline, taking over certain operations from Air Malta while shrinking the national airline’s business.”
The helicopter service was singled out as a “concrete example of this hidden plan” as the trade unions sources noted this should be purely an Air Malta operation.
They said that they fear that, that through the new company, the government could recruit staff offering new and more flexible conditions, drastically restricting the rights and benefits Air Malta personnel enjoy.
The trade union sources commented that certain government elements, possibly Dr Mizzi too, viewed some of the collective agreements in force, particularly those not negotiated by the General Workers’ Union, as restricting the national carrier’s expansion.
A spokesman for Dr Mizzi confirmed the new company will be responsible for the helicopter service between Malta and Gozo, adding that “naturally, this will require it to increase its staffing levels”.
Questions on whether the new company will offer services in direct competition with Air Malta remained unanswered.
Plan to introduce a helicopter service between Malta and Gozo
The spokesman said MedAir is recruiting technical staff as part of a process to gain IOSA (IATA operational safety audit) accreditation.
“The process sees it increasing its technical personnel required to gain IOSA approval. This is a requirement to improve the current service being provided to Air Malta on the routes where Air Malta has code-share with other airlines,” he added.
As part of a plan to balance Air Malta’s books, Med Air last year paid over €60 million to the national airline for the acquisition of its slots to then lease them back over a long period.
Dr Mizzi is expected to announce ‘positive’ financial results by Air Malta in the coming days.
Asked in Parliament earlier this week by Nationalist MP Beppe Fenech Adami whether it was true Air Malta owed Enemed millions of euros in unsettled fuel bills, the minister said such information was commercially sensitive.
In his efforts to turn the airline around, Minister Konrad Mizzi embarked on a plan contrasting sharply with that adopted by his predecessor, then tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis, and is trying to inject new capital into the airline and expand its operations.
Talks had started under Dr Zammit Lewis to sell Air Malta to Alitalia but the bid failed.
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