Over the past 20 years, strategic investment in diverse aspects of the aviation industry in Malta has led to job creation, revenue generation, and significant economic growth for the island nation. The country has focused on attracting repair and overhaul as well as research and development entities to establish operations on their land. During this time, Malta also became a signatory of the Cape Town Convention (an international treaty that standardises transactions involving movable property such as aircraft equipment), making the country’s aircraft industry more attractive for investments.
According to Minister for Transport, Infrastructure, and Capital Projects, Dr. Ian Borg, the number of registered aircrafts has doubled since 2012 and the number of Air Operator Certificate (AOC) holders has grown from 18 to 35 within Malta. Last year, aviation maintenance alone constituted three percent of Malta’s GDP. As the government looks ahead, it hopes to increase this percentage. Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the nation will continue to build on its success “by aiming to attract more airlines and related services to set up their base in Malta“.
To this end, ministers are currently working on a plan that includes the possible expansion of Malta International Airport to cater to increased air traffic, as well as a 4-million-euro investment in training for aviation workers. Combined with private development agreements and newly forged relationships overseas, the future of Maltese aviation is bright.
Earlier this summer, the first Malta-registered Airbus A380 was unveiled at Safi Aviation Park – which also happens to be the largest passenger airliner in the world. It has a wingspan of 80 metres and is certified to carry more than 850 passengers. Even with its size, the A380 flies extremely efficiently, emitting fewer greenhouse gasses than smaller planes, thus, leaving less of an impact on the environment.
Portuguese charter airline Hi Fly will operate the jet, becoming the company the fourth European airline to operate an A380. The plane itself is a significant addition to Malta’s aircraft register, which totals more than 280.
More recently and perhaps more importantly, Malta Enterprise and Malta Industrial Parks Limited signed a contract with aircraft maintenance company SR Technics on August 6 to create a 35-million-euro, 30,000 square meter six-bay hangar. Construction will begin this year. “The state-of-the-art hangar enables us to continue providing efficient and high-performance maintenance services based on safety, quality and reliability, and to deliver aircraft on schedule”, CEO Frank Walschot said of the project. It will also enable the company to recruit and train up to 300 more Maltese workers. Prime Minister Muscat, Minister for the Economy Christian Cardona, and CEO of Malta Enterprise, Mario Galea, were all present in Valletta for the announcement. “All this is positive but there are more goals to reach”, the prime minister said.
FOSTERING A PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIP
In a government statement released after the Valletta gathering, Maltese trade promotions representatives committed to securing even more business in the sectors that stimulate commercial aviation activity. “[Aviation] is an important industry which employs highly skilled and talented individuals from various fields of expertise”, they wrote. The government and the Malta Chamber of Commerce will also continue to support Malta-based businesses as they expand their aviation products and services to international markets.
Minister for Foreign Affairs, Carmelo Abela, emphasised that continued growth in the aviation industry will require a strong relationship between the government and private enterprises, as well as a proactive approach toward legal, financial, and educational challenges. Abela also said Malta will “make the best possible use of its diplomatic networks to continue building relationships and identifying trade opportunities”.
Nurturing international relationships is, in fact, a key aspect of Maltese aviation growth. For one, Transport Malta and the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau met in Tokyo this month to discuss the potential for air links between their respective nations. The conversation revolved around regulatory frameworks, routes to be operated, capacity entitlements, code-sharing, aviation safety, and other operational considerations. In recent appearances, Minister Abela has also stressed the promising potential of promoting business in Sub-Saharan markets, especially those with a strong oil and gas industry.
Brexit may also provide opportunities for Malta to partner more closely with other European airlines. EU airlines need effective management and control within the Union to pass legal requirements, and some aircrafts will face restrictions entering and leaving the United Kingdom after it officially leaves the Union. Thanks to its strategic geographical position and attractive aviation programme, Malta offers a practical alternative. Government and industry stakeholders insist that their bilateral relationship with the UK is also an asset in this regard.
Malta has already found tactical methods to differentiate its offerings and attract both businesses and investments within the aviation sector. Recent announcements only cement the country’s position as a growing aviation force and elucidates the many benefits this role brings for the Maltese economy.