Air Malta is eyeing longhaul service from Malta to the United States, Canada, and India.
Using Airbus A321s, the carrier hopes to continue its recent expansion to include New York, Toronto, and Mumbai. Already the carrier has added new flights to the Mediterranean and North African region. While current A321s have the capability of reaching North America without a fuel stop, new A321XLR under development would conceivably be able to easily make the journey nonstop.
The news comes from Malta’s Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi:
It is important for Air Malta to focus on the main airports in Europe, Scandinavia, Cairo and the Middle East and in three to four years’ time we should have flights to New York and Toronto.
If you are wondering why such news would come from the government and not the airline itself, you must understand the Malta flag carrier is majority government owned. Tourism plays a central role in the Maltese economy (15% of GDP) and air service to/from this island nation is treated as a public necessity, even if it loses money.
Of course the government does not want to lose money on Air Malta. It sees potential in North America, with only 45,000 visitors last year and room for tremendous growth. The most recent fiscal year, which ended in March 2018, marked the first time in over a decade that Air Malta reported a profit. Through cautious of cashflow, the airline sees a possibility to expand first in the Mediterranean region, then a longhaul basis.
The Mediterranean Plan
Long before service to North America or the Indian subcontinent begins, Air Malta hopes to build up a network within the Mediterranean. Already it has started service in Scilly from Catania and Cagliari to London and from Catania to Vienna. These flights do not go via Malta. Instead, Air Malta sees an opening in the changing business model of Air Italy (formerly Meridiana) as well as in the collapse of Colbalt Air and Cyprus Airways in nearby Cyprus. By becoming a Mediterranean Airline, Air Malta hopes to tap an underserved market.
That will be difficult with only 10 planes in the fleet, but Air Malta is in talks Airbus to acquire more, as the Maltese government cautiously looks to expand the airline without plunging it back to loss.
As someone who has been to Malta three times, I quite like the island nation and Air Malta. I’d be intrigued to see the carrier further expand and am glad it is thinking big. Still, it should focus now on Mediterranean growth and leave the longhaul flying to codeshare partners. Starting longhaul service in 3-4 years should only occur if can successfully expand its regional market and sustain profitability. Otherwise, the new routes would be merely markers of national pride rather than necessary economic lifelines.
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