Air Malta launches Catania-Vienna flights, quietly ditches direct Berlin service

Airline steps in after flyNiki ceased operations

Air Malta has introduced a Catania-Vienna route in line with the government's strategy to establish the carrier as the Airline of the Mediterranean, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi has announced.

He said Air Malta stepped in after Austrian airline flyNiki stopped operations.

"Air Malta is looking for new profitable opportunities in order to grow its route network over the Mediterranean region," he said.

Air Malta over the past months increased its links with Sicily and introduced a scheduled service to Comiso along with those it has to Catania and Palermo. It is seeking to attract passengers from Sicily who will either be brought to Malta for onward destinations, or will be flown directly from Sicily as is the case with the new service.

The new service will operate twice weekly.

Austrian low-cost airline flyNiki,  headquartered at Vienna Airport, ceased operations on December 14. The airline was operating scheduled and charter services to European and North African leisure destinations from Vienna, Salzburg, Graz, Innsbruck and some German airports.

Hungarian airline WizzAir has also quickly stepped into the breach. It announced on Tuesday that it will base three aircraft in Vienna operating to various destinations, including a service to Malta from April.

Direct Berlin flights quietly stopped

Meanwhile, Air Malta has quietly ditched its direct flights to Berlin without making any prior announcements.

A number of readers contacted Times of Malta, expressing their anger at the way Air Malta had suddenly dropped the route.

In 2016, Air Malta announced it was increasing its flight frequency to up to three weekly flights on the Berlin route.

Flights to Berlin can still be booked through Air Malta’s website, but the routes on offer involve a stopover at either Frankfurt, Munich or Brussels.

Many of the flight combinations to Berlin for this month now cost over €300.

Questions sent to the airline asking why the route had been dropped and why no public announcement was made about it remained unanswered at the time of writing.

READ: Air Malta losses surge to €13 million

Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi has said the new strategy for returning the national carrier to profitability involved increasing the number of flights and routes on offer.

Dr Mizzi took to the floor in Parliament to announce a number of new routes, including to St Petersburg, Casablanca and Lisbon.

No announcement was made about the decision to stop flights to the German capital, however.

The airline has faced a long, uphill battle to return to profitability.

Its revenues were down by approximately €25 million during the financial year ending March 2017 compared to the previous year.

That meant ending the fiscal year with a loss of more than €13 million, a figure three times higher than the €4 million in the red it posted in March 2016. The government has recently closed off a number of collective agreements with the various unions representing the airline’s workers.

Agreement with Air Malta’s pilots remains elusive, with Dr Mizzi missing a self-imposed deadline to reach an agreement with them by the end of 2017.

The pilots’ union is holding out on signing, demanding a better pay package and improved conditions.

The Times of Malta has previously reported how banks wanted the airline to conclude talks with all unions before they can green-light new credit facilities based on a new business plan.

The four collective agreements which the airline wishes to conclude will cost an additional €16 million.

However, the airline is hoping to increase its revenues by €100 million over the five-year period in order to return to the black.

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