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Opposition reacts to Air Malta talks collapse: 'We told you so'

Minister says other airlines interested in discussing strategic partnership

The Opposition spokesman on Air Malta, Claudio Grech, said today that the collapse of Air Malta’s talks with Alitalia led one to say ‘we told you so’ because everyone had raised eyebrows when the talks were started with an airline which was itself in serious difficulties.

Many people breathed a sigh of relief that Air Malta would not bind itself with a partner which would have made it irrelevant.

Mr Grech was replying to comments made in a statement to the House by Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, who repeated what he told trade unions on Friday about the failure of the talks.  

He said the talks with Alitalia had been stopped in the interests of the Maltese airline, its route network, the tourism industry and the economy in general as well as developments in the aviation sector.

The minister said the former government had been sweeping the airline’s problems under the carpet and had lacked a proper, long-term restructuring plan.

The present government wanted to see Air Malta reborn after having made losses for several years, he said. It would continue to seek a strategic partner which agreed that the government would retain majority control of the airline and that the Air Malta brand would be retained.

He said tough decisions had been taken by the airline’s management, saving millions of euro thanks to fleet and route rationalisation and other measures.

Talks would be continued with other airlines interested in forging a strategic partnership so that Air Malta could benefit from a wider route network, better logistics and eventual expansion of the fleet.

A number of airlines had shown an interest but he could not give further details at this stage, he said.

Claudio Grech.Claudio Grech.

The minister called for all to pull at the same rope to return Air Malta to growth and profitability.

Replying, Mr Grech criticised the minister for using much of his statement to hit out at the opposition, which it only consulted once. He asked the minister to explain the delays in the publication of Air Malta’s accounts and what its forecasts and liabilities are.

Was it true that Air Malta was only using six aircraft? How was the quality of service being affected by the poor quality of aircraft being wet leased?

What was the position regarding new terminal charges? Would the government seriously consider the PN proposal for local investment in the airline?

Other questions were put by Nationalist MPs Antoine Borg, Francis Zammit Dimech, Kristy Debono, Robert Arrigo and Censu Galea as well as Labour MP Anthony Agius Decelis. 

Losses have been reduced, but commercial viability has not been achieved.

In his replies, the minister defended his comments and said he had given three statements in Parliament and replied to several parliamentary questions, in contrast to what used to happen in the past. 

Dr Zammit Lewis said that while Air Malta's major restructuring goals had been achieved and losses had been reduced, commercial viability had still not being attained and this remained the ultimate aim.

The government was keeping the European Union informed. The aviation sector was in a state of flux, he said. Competition had increased, particularly in routes which had been profitable for Air Malta. The airline also suffered the loss of the profitable Libya route because of the situation in that country. Similar losses were suffered on the Russia routes. 

Net liabilities were stable compared to the last annual general meeting. On terminal charges, the minister said the government was working to ensure that Air Malta was not discriminated against, but EU rules had to be followed. 

He said Air Malta was using eight aircraft, but overheads needed to be reduced further if the airline was to be competitive.

The minister reiterated that the government never excluded local investment in Air Malta, but the airline still needed a strategic partnership which could provide knowhow and access to a bigger network and more favourable logistics. 

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