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Air Malta: New management should provide explanations - PL spokesman

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

The salvation of Air Malta is paramount for the airline and the tourism industry, PL spokesman Gavin Gulia said this afternoon in his initial reaction to the European Commission's report on the proposed restructuring and the minister's reaction to it.

Dr Gulia said that reacting to a report in The Times, the airline had, only yesterday, said that its slots at Heathrow and Gatwick airports, which gave it a competitive advantage, were not for sale.

But in its report today the EC confirmed that Air Malta was offering to give up these slots and others by 2013. A clarification was required, he said, as giving up these slots would negatively affect the business sector.

Dr Gulia said the Labour Party hoped the restructuring process would be successful but said that had the restructuring report been drawn up as it should in the first place, time would have been saved.

The fact that the EC had expressed doubts showed that proposals had not been well thought out and time was essential. Someone also had to shoulder responsibility for the report.

He noted that not only was the Opposition not consulted, it was not even kept informed. Dr Gulia said he submitted many parliamentary questions on aspects of the process and the reply always was that the information being requested was commercially sensitive and could not be given.

Dr Gulia said that there was now the Commission's public reaction to a report, the contents of which were not known.

He noted that it was positive that the Commission was accepting the argument that air travel was essential for a country on the periphery such as Malta.

However, it had expressed doubts on how realistic were the government's long term projections.

In its report, for example, the government did not say how Air Malta was planning to return to profitability in five years and the Commission wanted an explanation.

He asked about the transparent of the process with which subsidiaries were being sold and said it was preoccupying for the industry that certain routes were being halted.

Air Malta was responsible for 50 per cent of seat capacity to Malta, the other 50 per cent were from other legacy airlines and low cost carriers.

The airline, which was vital for the long-term sustainability of the tourism industry had last summer reduced seat capacity although the load factor increased.

There was scepticism, Dr Gulia said, on how it could keep the load factor on a reasonably good level in the medium to long term.

He noted that there seemed to be a lack of consultation between Air Malta and the Malta Tourism Authority and said that the minister responsible for tourism had admitted this himself.

Dr Gulia said that the new airline management were being paid millions and had he been minister he would have called those responsible and requested an explanation.

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