Air Malta talks long-haul with new Airbus A321LR

Malta’s Tourism Department has recently proposed plans to expand their route network to cities such as Mumbai, Toronto and New York in the coming years. In June 2017, the newly appointed Minister for Tourism had announced that Air Malta was in need of restructuring. Air Malta had since opened a number of new routes, including Tunis, Manchester, Malaga, Comiso, Kiev, Lisbon, Casablanca, London-Southend, Cagliari and Frankfurt. 2018 was the first year that state owned airline, Air Malta, made a profit, after many years of consecutive losses. “If the country wants to increase its economic growth, we need better connectivity. We need to look forward and dream that, in to three to four years’ time, why shouldn’t we have flights to New York, Toronto, or Mumbai?” Maltese politican Konrad Mizzi asked, in an interview with local station TVM Xtra. Following a meeting in Toulouse attended by the Maltese Tourism Minister, potential plans for ordering the A321LR were discussed.

Air Malta’s brand new A320neo on approach for Brussels in June 2018
© Kevin Cleynhens

The A321LR is one of the latest aircraft by Airbus, with the ability to fly up to 240 passengers nearly 7400km. However, the distance between Malta and New York is also 7400km, and between Malta and Toronto it’s 7600km. Therefore, while possible, these distances would push the aircraft to its operating limit. Air Malta’s other option would be to order a wide-body aircraft such as the Boeing 787 or Airbus A350 (ranges of over 14000km), but the airline have implied that is not yet in their best interest.

The so-called A321XLR, a theorized advanced version of the A321LR is due to enter the industry market in mid-2019, Airbus have stated. The Maltese airline has the option to purchase this instead, but it only has a slight range advantage, a large capacity disadvantage, and a higher cost altogether.

Entering the long-haul market could be enormously beneficial to Malta and its tourism industry. Malta is conveniently located in the middle of the Mediterranean sea and is blessed with good weather year-round. Furthermore, it would make a fabulous secondary destination for tourists visiting mainland Europe. Drinks are not expensive and clubs are open late, almost everyone speaks English and the beaches are great. Valetta, the Maltese capital, was named European City of Culture 2018, which puts the airline in an excellent position to expand and grow. We can only wait and see what Air Malta has in store for the future and whether we will be able to watch them thrive or not.

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