2020 will go down as the worst year in the history of aviation, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA). However, Charles Mangion, Chairman at Air Malta, is clear: “Air Malta is here to stay.”
COVID-19 has had an unprecedented negative effect on travel and tourism, being one of the worst hit industries during the pandemic. The drop in the number of people travelling, lockdowns, and the ever-changing travel restrictions have made it difficult for airlines to keep on the scheduled flight commitment towards customers. Airlines have seen passenger numbers declining by around 85 per cent, and, on average, every day of this year €193 million will be added to industry losses. “In total that’s a loss of €70 billion in 2020,” says Dr Mangion.
When Malta International Airport was closed for commercial traffic, Air Malta maintained connections to major European hubs and repatriated over 12,000 passengers whilst operating over 500 flight sectors. On these flights, the airline carried over 600 tonnes of cargo including medicine, vaccines, personal protective equipment, microelectronics, mail and perishables. The airline also organised special freighter services for Government, to carry 1,100 tonnes of additional medical supplies, radioactive material required for several treatments at Mater Dei Hospital, and other lifesaving medication. In 2020 the airline also carried the influenza vaccine.
Moving forward, Dr Mangion explains that during this time of uncertainty, Air Malta launched a ‘Business Guaranteed’ winter flight schedule; a timetable intended to secure flight connectivity for the season, unless circumstances such as adverse weather conditions and airport closures are beyond the airline’s control.
Dr Mangion continues that safety remains the airline’s top priority, stating it is enforcing strict COVID-19 safety protocols on all aircrafts, along with establishing procedures in the event of spreadable diseases on board. Air Malta is further backing calls headed by the IATA for the development and deployment of a co-ordinated rapid, accurate, affordable, easy-to-operate, scalable and systematic COVID-19 testing for all passengers before flight departure, as an alternative to quarantine measures.
The airline is also keeping up with its objectives and Corporate Social Responsibility obligations. “In this regard, we have stepped up our efforts to keep the islands connected to mainland Europe and ensure a seamless flow for all customers that need to travel and also to secure stability in the cargo supply chain,” says Dr Mangion.
As the much-awaited return to normality seems to remain a distant prospect for now, Air Malta has formulated a seven-year strategy which covers the COVID-19 period and beyond. Initiatives from this plan are already being executed and a new portal, booking engine and a mobile app will be launched by the second quarter of 2021, according to Dr Mangion.
In the meantime, the fleet replacement programme continues with the arrival of the fourth brand new Airbus A320Neo. “We are thus maintaining our drive to reduce emissions and become one of the most environmentally sustainable airlines in Europe,” he states, adding that the airline is reducing fuel consumption while integrating further within the Pan-European Strategic Framework for Greening the Economy.
While Dr Mangion doesn’t deny the challenges ahead, he remains optimistic, saying, “I am confident that Air Malta will weather this storm and be in a position to continue rebuilding the international network for the benefit of the economic development of the Maltese islands, the tourism industry, stakeholders and its dedicated employees.”
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