Probe over flight delay caused by pilots’ chief
The aircraft doors were closed and the air bridge had been disconnected
Air Malta is investigating the delay of a flight from Milan to Malta after the captain waited 30 minutes for airline pilots’ association (ALPA) president Domenic Azzopardi, The Sunday Times has learnt.
Sources said the incident took place on KM629 from Milan Malpensa airport to Malta on July 27, frustrating a planeload of passengers on the airport taxiway.
Sources said the passenger air bridge had already been disconnected from the aircraft when the decision to delay departure was taken.
The four late passengers were Captain Azzopardi, his wife – television presenter Simone Cini, and two children.
Contacted yesterday, Captain Azzopardi vehemently denied being late for the flight, insisting he was on time but found the gate closed when he went to board the plane.
“There was a problem with security,” he said.
He said it was not uncommon for pilots to delay flights if they were aware passengers were grounded or if they knew there was a late connecting flight.
However, sources said that Capt. Azzopardi and his family actually checked in at 11.30 a.m., 15 minutes after the flight should have departed.
When contacted, Air Malta confirmed it had received a number of complaints from other passengers. It said it was taking the incident “very seriously” and had launched a formal investigation into the matter.
From initial reports it had received, the airline said this incident seemed like a case of “misuse of authority”.
The airline refused to divulge more information on what had actually taken place, saying that since it considered the incident “a serious breach” it would first establish the full facts in the formal investigation which is currently under way.
The airline added this was “an internal matter”, with a spokesman refusing to comment further prior the conclusion of its inquiry.
Passengers told The Sunday Times the flight, which was packed with Italian tourists, was scheduled to depart at 11.15 a.m. Check-in had closed on time.
The aircraft’s doors were shut and the passenger air bridge had been disconnected from the aircraft when the flight’s captain ordered that the door be opened again and for the check-in to be re-opened.
The then captain ordered that the air-bridge be re-attached to the aircraft to allow the four passengers to board, the sources said.
Capt. Azzopardi denied he was late but refused to explain why the gate was closed when he arrived. He also insisted he had not called the captain to delay the flight.
Capt. Azzopardi rejected suggestions he may have abused his position and when asked whether the flight’s pilot felt compelled to wait for him since he was the president of his association, he said he would reply to any other questions only during the investigation.
He insisted it was “normal procedure” for pilots to delay take-off for late passengers, saying flights were often delayed for MEPs, the former EU ambassador and the Prime Minister, among others.
“As an airline Air Malta says its cares. Are we now going to revise this policy of waiting for grounded passengers?” he asked.
Capt. Azzopardi claimed the airline was getting back at him with a personal attack because the association had declared an industrial dispute over the way pilots were excluded from the airline’s decision-making process.