Ryanair to launch new Malta-based airline

Oliver Smith
According to industry insiders Malta is attempting to turn itself into a transit hub as well as a holiday destination - Westend61 / WeEmm (Westend61 / WeEmm (Photographer) - [None]

Ryanair has announced plans to launch a new Malta-based subsidiary airline, Malta Air. The new carrier will take over the 61 routes that Ryanair already operates to and from the Mediterranean country, with further expansion expected.

The government of Malta will reportedly own a “golden share” in the airline, giving it a veto on major changes, and it is hoped the move will help boost tourism. “The setting up of Malta Air will go a long way for the better sustainability of the tourism industry as well as maintaining its growth momentum,” Malta’s tourism minister Konrad Mizzi said on Facebook.

Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary added: “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.”

What would this mean for travellers?

Anyone booked to fly with Ryanair to Malta is highly unlikely to be affected, beyond the possibility of being switched to a plane with a different livery.

Ryanair currently has six planes based in Malta; these will be given a new paint job in time for summer 2020 and transferred to the nascent airline. There are plans to increase the size of the fleet to 10 aircraft within the next three years, and fares will be priced as competitively as those offered by Ryanair.

Isn’t there already an Air Malta?

Yes. Confusingly, Malta Air will operate alongside state-owned Air Malta. The two will offer different routes, with the national carrier focusing on flights to main airports in Europe, as well as the Middle East and Africa.

According to industry insiders Malta is attempting to turn itself into a transit hub as well as a holiday destination and last year it was announced that its sole airport would be expanded.

Why is Ryanair doing this?

In addition to transferring six of its fleet to the new airline, Ryanair will re-register another 50 aircraft on Malta, raising the prospect of using the island as a maintenance hub.

It isn’t the first time Ryanair has launched a subsidiary. Lauda, based in Austria, has operated as its sister airline since March 2018. It previously had ties with Niki Lauda, the late F1 legend, and has a fleet of 21 jets serving 38 destinations. Ryanair also owns Poland-based Buzz (formerly called Ryanair Sun), which is due to commence operations in autumn 2019 with a fleet of 25 aircraft.

All of which makes Ryanair increasingly reminiscent of airline groups such as IAG, which owns a raft of brands including BA, Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, and Lufthansa, whose subsidiaries include Austrian Airlines, Eurowings and Swiss. And it further tightens its grip on low-cost European aviation. Its days as an upstart no-frills Irish disruptor are truly a thing of the past.

Just how big is Ryanair now?

With a fleet of 439 aircraft (and orders for a further 260) serving 225 destinations, Ryanair is about to overtake the Lufthansa Group as Europe’s biggest airline. Last year Ryanair carried 139.2m passengers, compared with Lufthansa’s 142.3m. During the four months of 2019, however, Ryanair flew 44.3m, compared to Lufthansa’s 41.7m. It is the biggest airline in seven European countries, including Spain and Italy.

Worldwide, however, it remains some way off America’s big four, topped by American Airlines, which welcomes around 200m passengers a year.