Article Written by James Field & Ryan Taylor

LONDON — The Irish ultra-low-cost giant, Ryanair, has announced plans to launch an all-new subsidiary company in collaboration with the Maltese Government. Malta Air will be fitted with re-branded Ryanair aircraft.

Ryanair can trace its origins back to 1985, when the late Tony Ryan formed a small airline operating a route from Waterford, Southern Ireland, to London-Gatwick, carrying approximately 5,000 passengers during its first year.

Photo: Adrian Pingstone

Today, Ryanair has grown to be one of the worlds most recognized and controversial brands in the skies. Now operating over 400 aircraft from 82 bases all across Europe, serving 226 individual airports, the airline continues to push to expand its portfolio with the introduction of new, subsidiary carriers.

Ryanair has a legendary reputation for cutting costs at every turn, streamlining the fleet to one aircraft, the Boeing 737-800, allowing flight and cabin crew to be used interchangeably across the entire network.

European Aviation Regulations allow any airline with a European AOC to base aircraft at any airport within the European Union, which has helped with the growth of airlines such as Vueling, Norwegian and EasyJet.

A series of Ryanair 737-800s on the ramp at one of the carrier’s European focus cities. Ryanair is Europe’s largest airline by passengers carried, and consistently one of the world’s most profitable airlines. (Credits: Ryanair)

Malta is an archipelago of islands in the Mediterranean Sea, popular with holidaymakers from all over Europe who flock the sandy beaches and ancient ruins during summertime. With a population of under half a million, it is the tenth largest island in the world and the fifth most densely populated country in the world.

Under the deal, the carrier will switch six Malta-based aircraft worth over $600m onto the Maltese register.

It is understood that this number will rise to 10 within three years and create over 350 jobs in the process.

200 crew members based in the country will move onto local contracts paying local Maltese taxes.

The livery for this new airline will be unveiled in the Summer of next year.

Commenting on this deal was Ryanair’s Chief Michael O’Leary who emphasised happiness over this deal.

“Ryanair is pleased to welcome Malta Air to the Ryanair Group of airlines which now includes Buzz (Poland), Lauda (Austria), Malta Air, and Ryanair (Ireland).”

“Malta Air will proudly fly the Maltese name and flag to over 60 destinations across Europe and North Africa as we look to grow our Maltese based fleet, routes, traffic and jobs over the next three years.”

“Ryanair’s continued partnership with the Malta Tourism Authority will help drive forward the vision of Prime Minister Muscat and Minister Mizzi to grow year-round connections to all corners of Europe which will support increased tourism, business and jobs in Malta.”

“Ryanair appreciates the expertise of the Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate (CAD) in licencing Malta Air to operate the B737 aircraft and we look forward to working closely with the Maltese authorities over the coming years as we hope to add over 50 more aircraft to the Maltese register.”

Ryanair has been very late in splitting its operations between different business arms. In 2018, Ryanair Sun was launched to operate the vast majority of flights to and from Poland, offering charter services for Polish tour operators.

Allowing crew to be employed on Polish contracts inferior to those of the parent airline, a dedicated fleet of aircraft servicing the seven bases across the country transferred across from the mainline operation.

A similar story can be found in Austria with the launch of Laudamotion, although the airline launched with former Air Berlin aircraft at Vienna, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart routes were operated with mainline Ryanair aircraft.

The launching of the third whole-owned subsidiary, to be branded as Malta Air, will see Ryanair base operations at Luqa Airport (MLA) with a team of flight and cabin crew.

The aircraft will receive a new livery and branding. Already operating 61 routes from the island, all of which are expected to transfer across, there are plans for a maintenance base to be opened to service the fleet of six aircraft.

It is also rumored that up to 60 aircraft belonging to Ryanair based in Germany and Italy will be transferred onto the Maltese aircraft register. While these aircraft will still continue to fly Ryanair mainline flights, they will, however, sit on the Maltese register, which has seen a boost in recent years mainly attributed to business aircraft and the charter airline HiFly.

In a statement on Sunday morning, Maltese Tourism Minister, Konrad Mizzi said, “We had a tough, business-focused negotiation – which you’d expect from a global brand like Ryanair – but we are working to secure a fantastic deal for Malta.”

“Once concluded this will be an innovative partnership which forms part of our vision to develop Malta into an aviation hub in the heart of the Mediterranean – helping to secure a prosperous future for our children, and theirs,” he said.

Photo: Fabio Monterisi

There has been some concern about the impact the deal will have on the country’s flag carrier, Air Malta. Mizzi highlighted that the “government will continue to invest in Air Malta, which is growing and focusing on a different business model and market offering.”

Will Malta Air and Air Malta be able to coexist peacefully? Only time will tell. However, given that Air Malta still operates as a conventional full-service airline using the tried-and-tested hub-and-spoke model, the new Ryanair subsidiary will continue to operate as a point to point, ultra-low-cost airline.

The overarching question that arises is, how much demand is there in Maltese tourism to sustain these two carriers together?