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Equity firm makes bid for Air Malta - Muscat

Tourism deal with China signed

Updated 2.45pm with Simon Busuttil's comments.

The government had been approached by an equity firm with a letter of commitment from strategic partners to invest in Air Malta, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said.

He insisted that the preferred option was for the government to retain the majority of shares in Air Malta, as it had done with Enemalta. However, the government was still involved in discussions with different consortia.

Once a formal Memorandum of Understanding is agreed, it will be made public.

Dr Muscat expressed optimism about the future of Air Malta, saying revenue had increased.

Pointing out that the government would offer voluntary retirement schemes for workers, he insisted that the national airline had a future.

"We got Air Malta back from ITU," he said, dismissing speculation that Air Malta would be split into sections.

In January, Times of Malta reported that the airline was planning cost-cutting measures to the tune of €6 million, which might include job cuts and a wage freeze, after talks with Alitalia for the purchase of a stake in Air Malta had fallen through.

Read: Air Malta will have to cut jobs, minister says

Tourism agreement with China 

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis hailed the government's tourism achievements, as arrivals and revenue increased over the years.

While the target for 2017 was two million tourists, this year Malta was expected to host some 2.2 million tourists, spread over the seasons. Revenue from tourism topped €1.7 billion.

Dr Muscat hailed an agreement signed last week between the government and one of the biggest tour operators in China, with the idea of attracting 10,000 high net worth Chinese tourists every year.

"We will hit the ground running," Dr Muscat said.

Busuttil would accept minority shareholding for government

Speaking at a press conference this afternoon, Simon Busuttil did not stick to the oft-repeated benchmark of the government maintaining a majority shareholding - a factor which could prove crucial when it comes to attracting overseas investment.

He said that what the government needed was to maintain control – but that this could be done with just “one share” and not necessarily by having more than 50 per cent of the shares.

“What we need in the immediate future is to have control over the decisions taken, especially when they affect our accessibility.

“One thing is certain: Malta depends on its air links and it is now on the edge of the precipice. There would be no certainty if we were to depend only on other airlines.”

He said that a PN government would be open to investment from local investors, opening it up to public investment once it had got back on its feet.

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