Today in Aviation: Air Malta Takes Flight

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DALLAS – Today in Aviation, Maltese flag carrier Air Malta (KM) operated its first flight in 1974 on a wet-leased Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing 720B.

The flight departed Malta International Airport (MLA) bound for London Heathrow Airport (LHR), just a year after the airline’s foundation.

Early Days


Air Malta was founded in March 1973. The country’s government had wanted to establish a national airline. But with no idea how to go about it, they enlisted the help of PIA, which provided the aircraft and expertise.

By 1975, fifty-three thousand passengers were carried. The airline would also add new routes to Rome (FCO), Tripoli (TIP), Manchester (MAN), Frankfurt (FRA), and Paris (CDG).

To coincide with the airline’s tenth anniversary, the first of three brand new Boeing 737-200 Advanced arrived on March 30, 1983. The airline would operate six of the type until January 30, 2004. KM would also fly the -300, -400, and a single -500 series.

In 1987, KM ordered its first Airbus A320. The carrier stuck with the European manufacturer when it embarked on a fleet renewal program in July 2002. An order was placed for five A319s and seven A320s. Since then, the type has formed the backbone of the KM fleet after the last Boeing 737 was retired in May 2008.

On June 5, 2018, KM received its first A320neo, used to replace its older A320ceos. Currently, the airline’s fleet stands at seven Airbus jets: three A320ceo, and four A320neos.

The arrival of the first A320neo coincided with a striking new livery. (Photo: Kikas Baptista, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia)

Struggles


Air Malta has struggled over the years. When Malta joined the European Union in 2004, the island was flooded with low-cost carriers, and KM was slow to react. Heavy losses were incurred, and the airline has embarked on various restructuring programs.

This saw KM become a hybrid airline, offering full-service flight schedules, business class, and code-share agreements with other airlines, but with low-cost economy fares and buy-on-board in-flight service.

In January 2022, the Maltese government announced that it would cut the carrier’s workforce in half and shelve plans for long-haul expansion. This came in an effort to save the airline following the COVID-19 pandemic.


Featured image: Air Malta operated a total of four Boeing 720Bs. (Photo: Rob Hodgkins, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

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