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Efly fails to get off the ground

The British Aerospace 146-300 in Efly livery is grounded as the carrier remains without a licence.

The British Aerospace 146-300 in Efly livery is grounded as the carrier remains without a licence.

Luigi Crisipino's dream of establishing a "luxury low-cost" airline based in Malta to service the London Gatwick slot which becomes available at the end of October has so far failed to get off the ground.

The Efly project has turned into a "nightmare" with Dr Crispino blaming the Department of Civil Aviation for dragging its feet over licensing procedures and raising suspicion about his intentions.

The DCA has refuted the Italian's allegations.

Dr Crispino, who claims he has interests in tourism and leisure projects across Europe and access to 7,000 agencies in Italy, says Efly's failure to obtain a licence to operate four aircraft could cost the Maltese economy up to €125 million in annual tourism earnings, according to feasibility studies carried out by the company.

"We have suddenly become idiots," Dr Crispino told The Times Business, referring to himself and his business partners. "The impression has been given that we have invested huge amounts of money to come to Malta only to find that there is no chance of Efly obtaining a licence to operate from here. These procedures usually take 40 days to conclude anywhere else. Five months down the line, and Efly has been left with nothing. Yet this has nothing to do with technical issues. Everything should be in order and instead we have been brought to our knees."

Earlier this month, just days after granting an interview to detail Efly's ambitious long-term plans to service several European routes from Malta, Dr Crispino resigned as the company's chief executive officer and transferred all his shares to another firm, Aircraft Leasing Management. ALM is the proprietor of the four aircraft, formerly operated by British low-cost carrier FlyBe, which were to be leased to Efly. One aircraft, a British Aerospace 146-300, had already been brought to Malta. The other three remain in the UK.

A board chaired by Gilbert Gatt, and including managing director Antonio Maria Mattei, Frans Camilleri and Joseph Attard, has been established to administer the company.

In a statement two weeks ago, Dr Crispino said that his resignation "removed the last obstacle for Efly to obtain the last part of the licence." Efly had just obtained a licence and certification to carry out its own maintenance on aircraft leased from ALM.

The DCA told The Times Business on Tuesday that the airline had "not yet completed the requirements for the issue of a licence which need to be satisfied in accordance with European regulations".

Asked whether Dr Crispino was right to believe he was an obstacle and whether the department had reason to believe he was dishonourable, the DCA replied: "We are not at liberty to discuss information we become aware of during an application process. We have no comment to make about the remarks you quote."

Dr Crispino has been investigated and cleared by the Italian authorities in the past over the closure of Air Sicilia, the airline he had interests in and which filed for bankruptcy.

He says he will now endeavour to restore his reputation in Malta and will review the investment he has made here through ALM. Meanwhile, his legal team are examining his case.

"I am convinced that something is not right here," Dr Crispino insists. "If it were true that I was an obstacle, I resigned and sold my stake. However, I will produce documents to prove that I am not an obstacle in any way. I would like to understand why we can maintain aircraft and fly but we cannot carry passengers. We were to be granted a licence imminently. Somehow all these doubts had to be raised."

Asked what his contingency plan involved if Efly were not granted a licence soon, Dr Crispino said ALM would be forced to retrieve aircraft leased to the airline, de-register and re-register them and focus on other opportunities in the industry.

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