This month 10 years ago Malta and the State of Qatar signed a bilateral agreement whereby the two States granted each other the permission to have a designated airline providing scheduled commercial air transport services between the two countries. In the air transport industry these permissions are referred to as traffic rights. It is because of these in place that airlines can operate scheduled services from one country to another, out of respect to the international law principle of State sovereignty.

Even though over the past three decades, the industry has witnessed a considerable degree of regional liberalisation in this regard – rendering the decision of an airline to operate to another country purely a commercial one –  there is always some kind of underlying ‘traffic right’ agreement working in the background, making those flights, in a so called ‘liberalised region’, possible.

Since 2009, the said rights were never put to commercial use, with each designated airline – Air Malta and Qatar Airways – having had their own commercial reasons for not doing so in pursuit of their own broader strategy. However for the last years, on its own free will, Qatar Airways has eyed Malta for inclusion in its ever expanding network spanning the five continents of the globe.

When I successfully competed to join the airline in 2015 as the first Maltese in senior management to work at the airline headquarters in Doha, I was proudly surprised to learn that Malta – my homeland – was already on the airline’s books. I felt even prouder when in March 2018 during one of the most prominent global travel and tourism fairs, the airline publicly announced Malta as one of a long list of new destinations. This time I was proud but not surprised.

As one of the largest airlines worldwide, Qatar Airways employs large pools of best talent to identify new markets and deploy capacity accordingly. It is one of those few airlines which can be truly classified as data driven, with an excellent ability to research its markets timely and extensively, and react swiftly. It is one of those handful which not only provides a highly polished product worthy of five Skytrax golden stars to the passenger, but which equally invests in the execution of its day to day business and operations (even though not visible to the passenger), to ensure a head start over the competition.

Qatar Airways will provide the inhabitants of Malta with access to more than 160 destinations via its Doha hub

No wonder then that Qatar Airways has identified Malta to be part of its network; a minuscule market considering the much larger markets the airline serves with multiple frequencies daily, using state of the art aircraft with an average age of approximately five years. It will provide the fewer than 0.5 million inhabitants of the island of Malta access to more than 160 destinations via its Doha hub, and flexible freight options to the business community.

For such a large airline with no limits whatsoever to which corner of the world it operates to from a political, technical and commercial consideration, Malta is privileged for being identified as a QR destination, and to be served as from this Tuesday onwards.

On an industry level, having a super connector operating in and out of Malta is a boost to the local stakeholders, particularly the airport and ground handling service providers. While volumes at MIA have never been this high, few are the premium carriers that visit. Most of the accelerated growth of recent years is due to the increase in low cost carriers’ activity which command the largest market share at MIA.

Air Malta, the second largest operator thereat, has now adopted much of the low-cost business model, and although it claims to be a hybrid carrier, it is certainly not a driver of premium traffic. Together with the top four foreign flag carriers at MIA operating feeder routes to their well-established hubs, I am confident that Qatar Airways will join this league in adding high yielding traffic in and out of Malta.

As to the destination itself, when I arrived in Doha four years ago I expected to find a city like Dubai, a city where I had already spent considerable time. It only took me a few days roaming about to realise that Doha is more of an authentic Gulf city without denying itself the opportunity to progress. Having worked in a number of countries throughout my career, living in Doha was ‘the’ different experience.

Due to its moderate healthy pace, I could strike a real balance for the first time in my professional career between work and leisure. It is a coastal town allowing me to stroll or jog for long distances safely, just a metre away from the invigorating Gulf Sea. Needless to say, paying a visit to other countries while here is not an issue thanks to Qatar Airways’ extensive network.

The flight from Doha to Malta is now a reality. I am proud on many counts. My homeland will be privileged to boast direct air connections to Qatar and being served by one of the most awarded airlines worldwide. I am also ever grateful to Qatar, Qatar Airways and the Qatari State aviation authorities for the opportunities they have given me in my aviation career.      

Clive Aquilina Spagnol is a qualified air transport expert working in the State of Qatar. This is his own contribution written in his own personal capacity out of his own experiences working for aviation stakeholders in Qatar. 

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