Updated 12.30pm

A group of students had a day excursion to Rome cut short by about three hours when an Air Malta flight scheduled to depart to the Italian cultural capital at 7.30am on Friday left the island at 10.20am.

An airline spokesperson said the delay of two hours and 50 minutes was caused by the need to find a replacement for the pilot, who was unwell.

She apologised for the inconvenience. 

The delay impacted at least 50 secondary school students studying Italian at the Dingli Secondary School who went to Rome for the day. 

This is the latest in a series of flight delays of the struggling national airline that is set to be shut down and replaced by another airline at the end of the year.

In April several flights were delayed due to shortage of aircraft that was caused following a technical issue in one aircraft leading to it having to be withdrawn from service. Amongst the delays that month were a flight to Vienna that was due to depart at 7am but was rescheduled to leave 16 hours later at 11 pm.

A few days earlier, an Air Malta flight from Brussels landed in Malta at 7.25am having been due at 10.40pm the day before, as the airline battled a scheduling nightmare caused by "technical problems" on one of its aircraft.

A day before, two Air Malta flights between Rome and Malta were delayed by over six hours. 

On April 4, the airline was impacted by a technical system error causing 24 flights operated between April 5 and 8 to show as cancelled, while in December Air Malta had warned customers that they were likely to experience delays in the foreseeable future due to the airline outsourcing its baggage handling service.   

Also in April, Times of Malta reported that Air Malta had embarked on a recruitment drive to employ pilots and cabin crew, a year after it shed hundreds of employees in a restructuring aimed at saving it from collapse. A few weeks later Finance Minister Clyde Carauna confirmed Air Malta will not be employing more people.

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