Air Malta: evidence flight was held for pilots’ chief
Air Malta has “categorical documentary evidence” to back up a report that a flight was delayed for 30 minutes to wait for the Airline Pilots’ Association president to board.
The airline, which is investigating the incident, said yesterday it now wanted to appoint an independent external inquiry and would be calling on the association to agree to it. Its actions would then depend on the inquiry’s findings.
The incident was reported in the Sunday Times, which said the captain of the July 27 Milan-Malta flight ordered check-in to be reopened and the passengers’ air-bridge re-attached so that Alpa’s Dominic Azzopardi and his family could come aboard.
Air Malta said its evidence included third party electronic data gathered from the aircraft’s communications systems, computer logs at check-in and its ground handling partners in Milan.
It said Mr Azzopardi and family were travelling on rebated staff tickets.
“The airline will not accept justifications that these things happened in the past and cannot allow such delays that affect its on-time departure and arrival performance,” the airline said.
Mr Azzopardi has strongly denied being late for the flight, saying the gate was closed when he arrived and adding it was not uncommon for pilots to delay flights for grounded passengers.
Earlier, the association stood by Mr Azzopardi, even as more outraged passengers came forward yesterday.
It described the story as “a personal attack by Air Malta... posted in the media in an attempt to discredit Capt. Azzopardi”.
It said the report “did not portray the facts as they actually happened”, adding that this was a clear attempt at character assassination.
But more passengers on that aircraft have shared their experiences with The Times.
One Italian man who was on the flight, Alex Antignolo, said he was “disgusted” since he never experienced anything of the sort in his many years of travelling.
“I was coming to Malta for my holiday. The check-in was closed, the gates opened and we boarded the plane. Our seatbelts were fastened and we were getting ready for take-off.
“But all of a sudden the flight attendants opened the door again and we waited for 30 minutes,” he said.
He has not lodged a formal complaint with Air Malta but said there were many passengers, including several Italians, who were very angry about the incident.
Another passenger, who lodged a complaint with the airline after landing in Malta, said the delay had made him lose the first hour of a four-hour course, which cost his boss €400.
The man, who wished to remain anonymous although he is prepared to testify before the airline’s investigative board if summoned, said what happened made him feel inferior to other customers, even though his return flight had cost €500.
Alpa yesterday questioned the editorial decision to give the story so much prominence, adding: “Could the fact that Air Malta’s current chairman, Louis Farrugia, who sits on the Allied Newspaper’s board of directors, have anything to do with the matter?”
The pilots’ association said it had found the timing of the article “highly suspicious” since it only came a few days after it had registered an industrial dispute with the airline.
Blaming the article on the airline, the union said this kind of attitude only served to provoke and it shed light on the “dirty tactics” that Air Malta’s senior management was resorting to in an attempt to discredit the union.
It also said the inquiry was “marred” by the “biased... unwarranted and misleading media leak”.
The Forum group of trade unions, of which the pilots’ association forms part, said the story was an attempt to discredit the union and its president.
It hoped it was not “leaked” intentionally to create “a smoke-screen at such a delicate time for Air Malta”.