Air Malta eyeing Ghana as first sub-Saharan Africa market as part of its vision to become ‘airline of the Mediterranean’

15 April, 2019

The Maltese government and Air Malta are looking at new services to Accra, Ghana. Long term the carrier is planning to break out from Europe and African markets and extend its reach to Mumbai and as far as New York as its strategy to cope with increasing LCC competition at Malta International airport.

Accra would seem an unlikely destination for the carrier. Air Malta has no codeshare partnerships with any African carriers. Malta is completely disconnected to sub-Saharan Africa and only has two north African links in total. According to OAG, Tunis is operated year-round by both Air Malta and Tunisair Express, and Casablanca was only recently launched by Air Malta in Mar-2018.

This lack of connectivity is not unusual between Mediterranean airports and central/western Africa. Currently there are only weekly 70 movements between Accra's Kotoka International airport and western Europe based on schedules for the week commencing 08-Apr-2019, and these are to main European hubs including Paris CDG, Milan, London and Lisbon.

MAP - Air Malta's current network mainly spreads to the north from its Mediterranean island home into central Europe. A home that is ideally placed to also serve many sub-Saharan African marketsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation, OAG and Google Maps (data: w/c 08-Apr-2019)

It is a similar position at other major central and west African markets with the likes of Abidjan and Lagos seeing limited connectivity. No mid-tier Mediterranean airports comparable to Malta Airport offer direct connections to these destinations, as airlines don't see the demand to operate point-to-point.

The governments of Malta and Ghana recently signed a new bilateral air transport and tourism agreement in Mar-2019, which should improve connectivity between Ghana and the Mediterranean and potentially open up entirely new central African tourist markets which Air Malta can feed.

Becoming an "airline of the Mediterranean" however, as envisioned by chairman Cliff Chetcuti, means taking advantage of Malta's central location to go beyond Europe and Africa. In an interview with local media, Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi also said the government is pushing for other nonstop routes outside of Europe and Africa including the Indian sub-continent and even New York JFK, potentially using the A321XLR aircraft that remains under development by Airbus.

CHART - Air Malta is no longer the largest operator at Malta International airport and is still ceding ground to LCCsSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG (data: w/c 08-Apr-2019)

According to the minister, the carrier has already held a "number of discussions with Airbus" on plans to add the longer ranged variant of the A321neoLR into Air Malta's fleet and it may even be considering it over the A220 due to its expected longer range, while still being small enough to operate profitably in the Maltese market.

The Blue Swan Daily reported exclusively last year that Air Malta was considering acquiring a small fleet of A220s (formerly the Bombardier CSeries) as it explored a move to perhaps bring in a smaller sub 150-seater aircraft to complement its A320s and provide links connecting the islands of the Mediterranean with their homeland.

SEE RELATED REPORT: Air Malta looks at the Airbus A220 as it develops new strategy to provide links from the islands of the Mediterranean

"We are looking at the [Airbus] A220 for operation on shorter distances to develop a concept of Air Malta as the airline of the Mediterranean," its chairman Dr Charles Mangion explained. "The A220s offer the opportunity for short-haul flying over one hour and one hour and a half. You can do it more frequently, connecting an island to the mainline."

However, according to a report from local market experts Malta Aviation Outlook (MAviO) the aircraft is no longer on the radar for the national airline with the focus instead remaining on the larger A320 family of aircraft.

TABLE - Air Malta plans to replace its A320ceo fleet with A320neo equipment, but has also been considering other types to support its strategy to become 'airline of the Mediterranean'Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation Fleet Database

Plans to phase out its existing fleet of A320ceo Family with A320neos will also work to enable for fuel efficient operations in its European network and give a fresh look to its narrowbody interiors. CEO Cliff Chetcuti said the airline will to incorporate up to 14 additional A320neo family aircraft in the next five years.

Evidently this is Air Malta's chance to attempt to claw back market share from LCCs at Malta Airport. Not by competing on tried and true routes, but by being brave and opening completely new ones. It will also look to differentiate itself from LCCs by focusing on branding and premium onboard segments.