Finance Minister says former politicians ‘used and abused’ Air Malta for their own benefit

Last Updated on Sunday, 8 October, 2023 at 9:39 am by Andre Camilleri

Addressing Parliament on Tuesday, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said that former politicians from both administrations over the years have “used and abused” Air Malta for their own benefit.

He said that it was the current government that had the courage to tell the truth about the company’s drastic losses over the years.

During the debate on Air Malta’s future in Parliament, Caruana said that he has waited 30 months for the day to finally be able to publicly share his thoughts on the new airline, and on everything that happened which led to the decision to close down Air Malta by 30 March 2024, replacing it with a new airline to start operating the next day.

He said that he has always spoken in black and white, and that things need to be said how they were.

Caruana said that a company which was meant to make profit needed responsible decisions to made, but over the years, all else happened but that.

“Had things been done properly, this company would not have to go through this. It was used and abused, and these are the facts at the end of the day,” Caruana said.

He began with a detailed account with his first meeting with the Vice President of the EU Commission, whom he had negotiations with over the past 30 months over how to create a viable, sustainable and ultimately profitable plan for a national airline, which was also heavily scrutinized by the EU, he said.

Caruana said that the problem had been postponed for many years, and nobody in the past administrations stepped up to tell the people the truth.

He also said that no politician, three months before a general election, would have done as he did when announcing that Air Malta was having major issues in 2020.

“All we wanted to do was make the hard decisions needed, and address the decades-long problem,” Caruana said, emphasizing that in the past 20 years, Air Malta suffered only losses, making no profit.

He said that the company was losing millions, when there was an agreement signed in 2007 which involved early retirement schemes.

Caruana put himself in their shoes, saying that had he signed this agreement, and this was not upheld, he would strike.

“The numbers are there, they cannot be denied,” Caruana said.

He said that he had no problem saying that the airline lost millions, but it was not his pleasure to announce the airline’s closure on Monday, as he had been worried on how to proceed for the country to maintain a national airline.

Caruana said that nobody from the other side of the House asked for the agreement with the EU Commission to be tabled in Parliament, adding that he had nothing to hide, tabling it there and then.

This prompted some shouting on the PN’s side, with PN MP Ivan Castillo calling a point of order, saying that the PN had already asked the Minister for this agreement, but he had said at the time that it was not the time to table it.

Caruana said that the plan is the way forward, and that so long as he remains Minister responsible for the national airline, it must work in a commercial manner.

He said that possibly in this legislature, government will also find a strategic partner or semi-privatisation, as “it cannot afford to fall under the same habits.”

“We have stripped it over time, it did not even have its own planes. How can profit be generated if it did not have assets?” Caruana asked.

He said that the 17 routes planned will mean that once an airplane leaves the runway, it is making profit. Caruana spoke about maximizing the seat load factor to 90% and over, as the airplane only makes profit when it is full.

He said that connectivity must remain, but at the same time, it must also be commercially viable.

Caruana said that these decisions needed to be made, to prevent mediocrity. He said that there will be six months left where everything needs to fall into place, including the portal to book tickets with the new airline, refunds, and maintaining workers.

He said that responsibility cannot assume that everything which is asked for is addressed, as this would lead to the same past mistakes being made.

“We have come close enough with agreements with unions, and we agreed that we could not agree on everything. We are recognizing we are doing something different for the good of the airline,” Caruana said.

He said that this government had the courage to address this, but now the plan needs to be followed through, translating into a sustainable company which keeps its connectivity,  and make the profit it needs to make.

Caruana said he believed in the plan as he would have assured himself that if tomorrow, he is no longer the Minister responsible, no one else who comes after him can make the same mistakes.

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