Photo Credit: Charlie Carter/AviationSource

A Glimpse Into The Past, Present & Future of Maltese Aviation: Air Malta

ROME – Malta is a small island located off the southern coast of Sicily and a quick crossing to the east from Tunisia.

The country is rich with traditions and truly a melting pot of cultures. Given its strategic geographical position, Malta served as an essential Naval base throughout the succession of powers that have ruled this Mediterranean Archipelago.

As a result, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, and Greeks are among the few who left a cultural footprint on the island.

A little less known is the history of Maltese aviation, which, although it does not go back to 5900 BC, is still an essential part of the history of this small island country.

The Post-War Boom?


Several small airlines were formed on the Maltese archipelago when the Second World War ended.

Among these were Malta Instone Airline and BAS Airways and fierce competition with the former, Malta Airlines.

In 1947 BAS and Instone airlines merged to form Air Malta ltd, which would then be absorbed in 1951 by Malta Airlines operating through an agreement with BEA until 1973.

Air Malta and Co, as we know it today, dates to 1973.

The Maltese government decided it was time for the country to have an independent flag carrier, thus cutting ties with British European Airway and the British Government. BEA would continue operating on behalf of Malta airlines during the transition period.

Unlike most other countries, the Maltese government did not have copious experience with starting up airlines. So left with no choice, the government looked east for the experience.

What might seem odd today, considering its controversial safety record, Air Malta enlisted the help of Pakistan’s National airline, PIA, to help get the newly founded airline off the ground.

Although somewhat hard to believe, PIA was considered Asia’s best carrier at the time.

PIA provided intangibles, such as knowledge and experience and tangible elements essential to a start-up airline, a Boeing 707.

Not long after the Maltese government decided to create a new flag carrier, Air Malta took to the skies in 1974. The first route served by the airline was London Heathrow.

By 1975 over 50,000 passengers were transported, and the expansion to connect Malta to the world commenced.

Shortly after London, new destinations joined the network. Paris, Tripoli, Rome, Manchester, and Frankfurt. The eighties were roaring, and so was Air Malta down Europe’s runways.

Air Malta’s fleet development


It is 1981, and after almost a decade, Air Malta retires the 707 and acquires the Boeing 737-200 on a wet-lease basis.

The functionality and performance of the aircraft proved to be such a success that airlines placed an order for two more in 1983.

In 1987, in a turn of events, the airline ordered its first Airbus A320 alongside the smaller Avro-87, also known as the jumbolino, to serve shorter hops to Sicily and Northern Africa.

With the turn of the century came a revamp of Air Malta fleets which headed in an all-airbus direction.

Currently, the airline’s fleet comprises three A320s and four A320neos.

Air Malta’s present


Air Malta has always been a turbulent carrier, with Maltese headlines often predicting the end of the line for the airline.

The turbulent times started in 2004 when Malta joined the European Union, and low-cost airlines from the likes of Ryanair and EasyJet rushed to get a slice of the Maltese Market.

Like many flag carriers in Europe, Air Malta was blinded by its legacy and thus had a slow reaction to the new force in the market.

Over the years, the airline rebranded and attempted a change of strategy, opting for a hybrid model where there was a full-service business class in the first few rows whilst down the back, the airline introduced a buy-on-board service and other elements commonly found on a no-frills carrier.

The future


If its turbulent past and the unrivaled competition of low cost and full-service carriers were not enough, the most considerable threat known to the travel industry arrived, Covid-19.

The onset of the virus led Air Malta on a wild goose chase for liquidity and blocked all expansion plans for the foreseeable future, including the possibility of starting long-haul operations.

With Covid and travel restrictions paining the balance sheets, Air Malta reduced its workforce by 50% in January 2022 to save the airline from bankruptcy.

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