Aviation Flying High
Published on The Times of Malta
The European Aviation Strategy emphasises the need for European States to penetrate emerging markets where the demand for aviation services is dissatisfying, both from a quantity and quality perspective. This Strategy, therefore, encourages member states to dare go beyond their normal growth objectives through ongoing innovation in aviation services and products.
The ‘Research and Innovation Strategy for Malta 2020’ has identified thematic areas of ‘Smart Specialisation’ that also includes Aviation and Aerospace. This process is at the core of the EU’s Horizon 2020 strategy aimed at supporting and funding research activities across EU Member states.
At a national level, we are being proactive in order to adequately prepare and adapt ourselves to the forthcoming challenges. Our clear aspiration is to transform Malta into a fully-fledged aviation centre that effectively supports any aviation-related services. Our vision can be outlined into four main objectives.
Firstly, we want to transform Malta into a more attractive jurisdiction for institutions. Correspondingly, we are also urging commercial banks to be part of this success story by further delving into the opportunities offered by the aviation industry and actively support its growth. Secondly, we need to direct our efforts into attracting companies that operate in the leasing environment and market.
Over the past three years, the aviation registry has experienced a growth of almost 70%, given that over 240 aircraft are registered under the Malta flag. Accompanying this is the increasing number of companies that are seeking an Air Operator Certificate or other licensing types in Malta.
Maintenance companies are expanding their client base while investing in a wider range of services. It is also pertinent to mention that significant contracts are being awarded to Malta-based facilities on the basis of quality, turnaround time, as well as their very competitive cost structures. In this respect, I must mention the notable maintenance contract recently entered into by a major European airline, EasyJet, with the Malta-based facilities of Lufthansa Technik and SR Technics respectively for the next five years.
Moreover, earlier this year, VistaJet, a leading business aviation player, has relocated its headquarters to Malta and has tangible plans to continue expanding its operations in line with its growth ambitions and objectives.
In parallel to all the developments mentioned above, we have also amended the Aircraft Registration Act keeping in perspective the current and any potentially future developments within this sector that could possibly demand a more robust, yet still flexible, legal framework.
The other main objectives are to attract new workers to this sector and incentivise experienced ones to further widen their knowledge and skills, while also further improving the infrastructure required by companies to expand or establish their operations locally.
The above-mentioned developments necessitate an adequately trained and skilled workforce. In this respect, the Ministry for Tourism is actively collaborating with the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology in order to encourage young people into enrolling for courses providing the necessary training in various areas related to aviation. Simultaneously, the Institute for Aerospace Technologies within the University of Malta will further offer the opportunity to students to specialize within the related fields of avionics, air traffic control, as well as aircraft maintenance.
We are also working to create the appropriate environment to attract highly qualified aviation professionals toward working in Malta. While satisfying the skills requirements of the companies based in Malta, this measure also aims to promote specialized knowledge and skills transfer within our aviation industry.
Over the past months we have worked together with all relevant stakeholders to further enhance and increase air connectivity particularly during the less popular winter months. We have embarked on a strategy to increase the number of direct airline routes to and from Malta and this year alone we inaugurated more than fifteen new air services. Furthermore, for this winter season, we will also achieve an increase of 20% in airline seating capacity compared to last year.
Our islands’ connectivity and the topic of Air Malta clearly go hand in hand. We believe that we can only maintain these tourism flows if we ensure a sustainable and competitive national airline. Within a global and European airline industry that is constantly consolidating, we believe that Air Malta cannot survive alone and requires an effective strategic partnership. This model will ensure drastic cost savings through economies of scale, procurement benefits and extensive network synergies that will, in turn, allow our airline to become competitive and stronger in both the short and long term in today’s highly aggressive aviation landscape. This will also ensure that our airline will become an even more important strategic asset for our tourism industry. Let me be clear on this point. I am definitely not interested in applying what are perceived as quick fixes that simply do nothing except postpone the core problems and issues. Unfortunately, this was an avenue that was clearly practiced in the past that also got us at the very undesirable position we are in today. We are working at a solution that ensures the long term viability of our national airline for the good of its employees as well as the tourism sector itself. Even if this process may be taking longer than envisaged, given the many complexities involved, I am very resolute in pursuing this path.
To conclude, it is clear that the aviation industry is now, more than ever before, steadily on the growth path and is becoming an even more important contributor to our economic success. We are aware that there are further opportunities within this sector that we are determined to exploit and, to this end, we are fully committed to continue pursuing and implementing our vision and strategy.