29 November 2006

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Air Malta does not repair planes – Austin Gatt

Matthew Vella

Investments Minister Austin Gatt yesterday said Air Malta’s central function was not that of repairing airliners or taking out more cash from its limited resources to invest it in “activities which did not help it improve its service or make it more profitable” – referring to criticism from Labour MP Charles Mangion, who commented on the recent expansion of Lufthansa Technik’s base at the Malta International Airpot. Air Malta recently reduced its shareholding in Lufthansa Technik to 25%. Charles Mangion and Labour spokesperson for the national airline Joseph Cuschieri were questioning the reasons why the government, as a prime shareholder of Air Malta, had not invested further with Lufthansa Technik, which has just announced plans to invest up to EUR60 million in additional aircraft maintenance facilities in Malta.
Air Malta had recently reduced its share in the ambitious joint-venture from a 49% holding to 25%.
On Monday, Labour MP Charles Mangion questioned the reason why Air Malta had not invested further with Lufthansa Technik. He said it was essential for Air Malta to exploit those sectors that complemented it if the government truly wanted to get the airline back on its feet. “Since this type of investment complements Air Malta’s core operation, can the government explain why it did not feel the need to involve Air Malta more in this initiative?”
Mangion welcomed Lufthansa Technik’s investment in its 2002 joint venture with Air Malta as a positive step that confirmed the national airline’s strategic value for the country. “Since the government is investing a lot to build the hangar that Lufthansa needs, what has kept Air Malta from participating in such an important sector?”
But Austin Gatt reiterated that Lufthansa’s expansion was informed by Malta’s EU membership and government’s role in creating an attractive environment for foreign investment.
He said Labour had suggested that it should have been Air Malta taking out the investment that saw Lufthansa increase its presence at Malta International Airport. “Government considers Air Malta as performing better when it concentrates on its central activity – flying from Malta to other destinations... this strategic position is reflected in the new code-sharing with Lufthansa which will permit Air Malta to reach important markets in the USA and Far East.”
Gatt also added the creation of some 550 new jobs with the new Lufthansa expansion did not require Air Malta to be a greater player in the joint-venture.

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