Gozitan business stakeholders are looking forward to rapid progress in the Gozo airfield project, while insisting that it must be attuned to market needs in order to be a success.
The pre-election revival of the idea for an air link between Malta and Gozo, which was welcomed by Gozitan business lobbies, is now moving to its next stage, with the Gozo Regional Development Authority currently soliciting feedback on the proposal and organising two meetings for stakeholders to share their views later this week, on Thursday 19th and Friday 20th May.
BusinessNow.mt reached out to two of Gozo’s leading business associations, which have previously spoken out positively about the prospect of an airfield, to find out more about their views, now that the plans are clearer.
Joe Muscat, CEO of the Gozo Tourism Association, maintains the organisation’s long-standing support for an airlink, saying that it would like to see it realised “as soon as possible”.
He envisages the creation of new opportunities for work and the diversification of the Gozitan economy into sectors it was previously not capable of supporting.
“The aviation sector is doing well in Malta, but non-existent in Gozo. This will go some ways towards making the island more attractive to investment in niches like this,” he says, pointing to small aircraft cleaning, painting and maintenance as particularly promising, along with drones.
Ms Muscat pre-empts expected environmental concerns by pointing out that the proposed location is “a dump” characterised by “dunes of rubble”.
“The way it has been planned, it will literally be a thin strip of tarmac surrounded by grass, which will take the place of all the illegal construction waste that has been dumped there over the years,” he says, taking the opportunity to compare it to overdevelopment, an increasing concern for many Gozitans: “It has nothing to do with the concrete ugliness we see going up around us.”
He also notes that a fixed wing aircraft will generate a lot less noise than a helicopter, and touts the benefits of a direct link between Gozo and almost every tourist’s first and last stop – Malta International Airport.
Daniel Borg, CEO of the Gozo Business Chamber, broadly agrees with Mr Muscat’s comments, and believes that the air strip will be much better than the current “practically delipidated” state of the area.
Adding on to the economic niches the local business community hopes can be attracted to Gozo, he mentions flight schools and aviation R&D companies, which, benefitting from the less congested airspace, may find it useful for testing purposes.
For Mr Borg, the main things any eventual operator must keep in mind is that the price needs to be reasonable and the schedule needs to serve market needs.
“Currently, we have a problem in that tourists having their flights back home on Sunday evening still need to leave Gozo in the morning on account of the tremendous traffic and delays caused by the crowds of people returning to Malta. So it is hardly worth it for visitors to spend Sunday night here, knowing that their Sunday would be wasted in transit instead of enjoying one last day on our island.”
He continues: “However, a 15-20 minute flight directly to the Luqa airport would eliminate the problem by bypassing all the traffic.
Mr Borg adds that the schedule should be timed to reflect important international flights from key source markets, ensuring that the service is well-positioned to make the most out of every opportunity there is.
“If this works,” he concludes, “it will be a gamechanger.”
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