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Gozo-Malta helicopter service to get the chop

Company requests subsidies

Chopper chopped: The Gozo-Helicopter service is to cease operations after just 18 months. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

Chopper chopped: The Gozo-Helicopter service is to cease operations after just 18 months. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi.

The Gozo-Malta helicopter service operated by the Spanish company Helisureste is set to wind up at the end of the month.

The company has instructed its Gozo-based employees not to accept bookings as from Sunday until further notice but it has not yet informed them that it is pulling out - effectively leaving them in the dark.

When contacted, Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea said it was unlikely the company would be operating after the end of this month.

Mr Galea said discussions were taking place after the company made a request for subsidies to operate the route, but it was "unlikely" there would be a successful conclusion.

"If things don't change, in all probability they (Helisureste) will pull out at the end of the month," Mr Galea said.

The service has been operated by Helisureste since March 27 of last year, taking over after the previous operator, Malta Aircharter, folded around six months earlier.

It has been operating a round-the-clock schedule on a 13-seater helicopter from the Heliport in Ghajnsielem to Malta International Airport. But it was not uncommon for trips to be cancelled at short notice.

However, high prices - a return ticket costs up to Lm50 - meant there was low take-up in spite of the company's target to carry 40,000 passengers per year by the end of this year.

Gozo Tourism Association secretary Joe Muscat said he was not surprised that the service was likely to come to an end, and it would make little difference to tourism on the island since the number of passengers was so low.

However, he said that Gozo had lost its only alternative access route which was invaluable in poor weather conditions when the ferry is unable to operate.

"We had two points of access and now we only have one. That's how we're looking at it. This strengthens the argument to extend the runway at the heliport and operate a fixed wing operation."

Efforts to contact the company for a reaction proved fruitless.

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