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Malta’s incentive scheme reaps rewards

Image: Siege of Malta
A self-explanatory newspaper cartoon with risky historical references to the most recent siege of Malta (our thanks to “Malta Today”). Ryanair has grabbed the credit for Malta’s double digit growth though not all of this should be attributed to Ryanair.

Despite joining the EU back in 2004 at the same time as headline grabbing states like Poland and Hungary, Malta’s air travel market has not witnessed the rapid growth in air services that its fellow EU newcomers have experienced. With a population of just 400,000 Malta is best known as a tourist destination for UK holiday makers – until independence in 1964 ties with the UK were so strong that very serious consideration was given to its incorporation into the United Kingdom. In recent years flights to and from the UK have still represented around 40% of total annual passenger numbers.

Logo: Malta Tourism AuthorityBut responding to traffic reductions in 2006 the Maltese government developed an incentive scheme to attract new airlines and new routes. This resulted in the launch of Ryanair flights to London Luton and Pisa last October.

Chart: Malta Airport Traffic 2002-07
Source: Malta Airport

Traffic for the last three months has shown double-digit growth, though not all of this should be attributed to Ryanair. Traffic from the UK has been up around 6% this year. Ryanair has contributed around 74,000 passengers from London Luton in the first eight months of this year though total UK traffic is up only 46,000. Traffic on charter airlines is down over 10%, suggesting some market shift from charters to Ryanair and also increased scheduled services at Manchester from British Airways and Air Malta.

Air Malta dominates; Germany thrusts forwards

Map: Malta Routes

The biggest single increase in passengers this summer has been from Germany. In August traffic to Frankfurt was up 50% on the previous year, Munich was up 15% and Germanwings has had new routes to Cologne/Bonn and Stuttgart each operating twice per week since the end of March.

Meanwhile Air Malta’s market share of traffic increased in 2006 to close to 60%. With a fleet of six A320s (168/180 seats), five A319s (141 seats) and two 737s (144 seats) the airline carried over 1.6 million passengers in 2006 at an average load factor of 69%. During the last 12 months load factors have varied between 53% over the Christmas and New Year period and 77% in the peak summer months reflecting significant seasonality.

Chart: Top Airlines for 05 to 06
Source: Malta Airport

Despite this dominant position Air Malta has failed to generate profits in recent years and the government’s incentive programme to attract further competition hardly suggests a prosperous future for the state-owned airline or its adventures, such as a twice-weekly route to Bologna which begins in mid-December.

British Jet: UK – Malta specialist with Swiss link

Logo: British Jet

Despite Ryanair’s move to grab all the credit for growth, the second biggest airline in Malta in 2006 was BritishJet.com which entered the market with a single MD90 wet-leased from Swiss company Hello in 2005. As the name suggests the airline specialises in links to a number of UK airports which it operates on a charter basis. It has weekly services to Bristol, Birmingham, East Midlands, Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford, Newcastle and London Stansted while Manchester has two flights per week and London Gatwick four.

Ryanair: eight routes soon

Ryanair started low-cost flights to Malta at the end of 2006 with daily flights from London Luton and three flights per week from its Italian base at Pisa. In February this year Dublin services began and this week sees the launch (on 25 September) of flights from Bremen. Before the end of the year another 11 weekly flights will link Malta with Valencia, Barcelona Girona, Stockholm Skavsta and Venice Treviso.

Ryanair: Malta to Start Date Weekly Frequency
London Luton 31 Oct 06 7
Pisa 31 Oct 06 3
Dublin 08 Feb 07 3
Bremen 25 Sep 07 3
Valencia 01 Oct 07 3
Barcelona Girona 30 Oct 07 3
Stockholm Skavsta 31 Oct 07 2
Venice Treviso 13 Dec 07 3
Source: Ryanair

Of these Venice Treviso is the most interesting as it is not an existing Ryanair base. Load factors on the Luton route have averaged over 80% in 2007 with a peak in August of over 90%.

UK routes lead the way

The UK’s two biggest charter airports, Gatwick and Manchester, have been the busiest routes for the last two years. Various European hubs also feature in the top 15 airports

Chart: Malta Airport - Top Routes 2005-06
Source: Malta Airport

The appearance of Tripoli in the list is of note, though not entirely surprising. Malta’s experiments with watered-down socialism in the 1970s resulted in a close fraternisation with the Libyan comrades less than 400 kilometres away, although today the relationship is strictly business. London Luton is likely to appear in the top 10 for this year as Ryanair is on track to carry around 110,000 passengers on the route in 2007.


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