Can smaller capacity regional airliners be the solution to Malta’s connectivity challenges, and to balance out schedules due to seasonal peaks and troughs? ‘Regional Connectivity and Second Tier Operators’ was the main theme of the sixth edition of the BOV Aviation Outlook held at Bank of Valletta’s head office in Santa Venera and featuring the most influential players in the Maltese aviation industry. The conference was hosted by Bank of Valletta CEO Mario Mallia. Hon Joe Mizzi, Minister for Transport and Infrastructure was also present.
“Located in the centre of the Mediterranean, the Maltese islands have traditionally been known for their thriving tourism industry and have historically been a hub for maritime activity,” said BOV CEO Mario Mallia in his opening address. “The Transport market is a key sector with high growth potential in the Maltese Economy.”
Malta is now seeking to take its strengths as a hub for maritime activity into the sky through growing its aviation sector, attracting internationally renowned entities to set up operations in Malta. As part of its economic development strategy, Malta is supporting diverse sectors in the aviation industry, including, but not limited to, maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations, back-office setups, R&D and the production of aircraft components. The recently announced six-bay hangar for SR Technics endorses Malta, a premium location for the MRO industry.
The Malta flag’s attractiveness has already proven itself in the maritime industry, where the Maltese Shipping Register is the second largest in Europe and the eighth largest in the world. Recent initiatives to boost aircraft registration are indicative of the country’s enthusiasm for the aircraft register to follow in the footsteps of the shipping register.
After four successive years of passenger growth, traffic demand in and out of Malta is now clearly on the rise as the nation continues to reinvent itself as a leisure market. The arrival of low-cost air travel means that 100 destinations are now served directly from the island and Ryanair is now officially the largest airline.
National carrier Air Malta has been transformed and is celebrating the recent launch of flights to Tel Aviv, Israel and will soon resume flights into North Africa with the return of services to Tunis, Tunisia from the end of next month with a schedule designed to offer transfer connections through Malta International Airport. Its unit costs are efficient compared to other European legacy airlines, but remain higher than the level of the LCCs with which it competes with its short-haul, non-premium, point-to-point offering.
Last winter’s flight schedule was over a fifth larger than the previous year and this year’s summer schedule in Malta will be around 15 per cent larger than summer 2016, based on current published schedules. This growth has been largely facilitated by the arrival and growth of Low-Cost Carriers with a share of capacity rising from just ten per cent in 2007 to almost half in 2017. Ryanair is a great example of an airline that sees the potential of the market growing, starting with one aircraft based in Malta in May 2010, increasing to two crafts in May 2012, three from March 2016 and four from March this year.
Air passenger demand is currently heavily dominated by flows from Italy and the UK where LCCs have already entered the market and those two countries account for over two million annual two-way O&D passengers per year and are home to the six largest markets connected to the island – the Malta – London Gatwick route alone accounted for almost seven per cent of passengers in and out of Malta in 2016.
It is clear that Malta has never been better connected, but it continues to suffer from significant seasonality in demand. Aircraft manufacturers believe that the use of smaller capacity regional airliners could be the solution, allowing operators to modify schedules to better meet demand and balance out the operational peaks and troughs. With the maturity of Malta’s aviation market in recent years, does it now make room for a second tier operator in the country flying smaller aircraft on regional routes and complementing legacy and LCC operators?
In his presentation entitled ‘A regional revolution for Malta?’ Richard Maslen, a long-time and well-respected aviation journalist and consultant, looked in great detail at the Maltese aviation sector, using latest capacity and demand data trends to highlight its maturity. Using material from the world’s leading aircraft manufacturers, he looked more closely at the new regional airliners in the market, their performance from Malta and the opportunities they could deliver.
After six years working closely with the air service development community, Maslen looked at some of the markets that could perhaps support new direct connectivity in and out of Malta based on current passenger travel itineraries and provide some recommendations on the future of air connectivity for Malta and how working hand-in-hand with other airports can help support its growth and provide a sustainable aviation sector for the country.
Other speakers at the event included well-known entrepreneur Martin Degiorgio, who has pioneered a number of destinations from the Maltese islands as well as university lecturer Dr Alfred Quintano who in the past was a senior executive at the national carrier.
The BOV Aviation Outlook saw three well-known personalities being honoured for their role in the local aviation sector. The Aviator of the Year Award went to Captain Robin Zammit who hit the headlines last March after performing a flight that transported a baby in a life threatening condition, in an incubator as fast as possible to Heathrow, London. The team succeeded in their mission with flying colours.
The Leader of the Year award went to Transport Malta – Civil Aviation Directorate GA Inspector Nigel Dunkerley, who over the past twelve months has done sterling work at the European Aviation Safety Agency in an area that is still in its embryonic stages – Unmanned Air Vehicles. Nigel Dunkerley has been commended highly from the top brass at EASA for the sterling work carried out at this important stage.
The most coveted award - The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Major Anthony Abela, who has played a major role in the setting up of radar coverage round the islands and more so published a well-researched book entitled Malta’s Early Warning System during World War II. In his research Major Abela unearthed classified information and dealt with an aviation subject that is not usually covered by mainstream authors.
Congratulating the winners for excelling in their respective fields, Hon. Mizzi said, “Today’s event continues to accentuate the fact that Malta, albeit a small country, has a lot to offer even in the aviation sector. The operators themselves say that Malta is an ideal jurisdiction. Malta’s growth in the aviation sector will create further jobs, thereby strengthening its connectivity with the EU, both with respect to tourism but also in relation to goods and services.”