Ryanair on Tuesday confirmed plans to establish a new Malta-based airline, a move that marks a further step in the development of its recently announced strategy to evolve toward a group structure with multiple brands resting under one holding company such as International Airlines Group (IAG) and Lufthansa Group. The Irish company will acquire start-up Malta Air—not to be confused with Air Malta, the country’s national airline—for an undisclosed amount.
In a first step, Ryanair will transfer six Boeing 737-800s currently based in Malta onto the Maltese registry, but plans call for the Malta-based fleet to increase to 10 aircraft within three years and up to 60 in the longer term. The airline reportedly will also establish a repair and maintenance shop in Malta.
Speaking Tuesday in Malta, Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary expressed satisfaction with the licensing process in the country. “[We appreciate] the expertise of the Maltese Civil Aviation Directorate (CAD) in licensing Malta Air to operate the Boeing 737 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,” said O’Leary.
Ryanair will maintain the Malta Air brand, and the first six Ryanair Boeing 737s will receive Malta Air liveries for summer 2020. As such, Malta Air becomes the third non-Ryanair brand of the group, joining Austria’s Laudamotion and Buzz in Poland. O’Leary intends to take on the role of group CEO once it appoints a new chief executive to lead Ryanair DAC, the Irish airline and AOC, later this year.
Ryanair has operated in Malta for more than 10 years and now flies 3 million passengers a year on a route network spanning 60 destinations. Ryanair aims to increase Malta Air’s passenger numbers to 5 million within five years and use the new airline to access non-EU markets—mainly North Africa—from Malta.
“The relationship between Ryanair and Malta has evolved into a successful collaboration,” said Malta minister for tourism Konrad Mizzi. “We welcome Ryanair’s commitment to operate and grow a fully fledged Malta-based airline which will contribute in a large way to the country’s development.” Mizzi said in a Facebook post late on Monday that the airline would include a "golden share," a mechanism by which the government must consent to disposals, share issues, or takeovers.
AIN could not reach Ryanair for comment on the golden share and whether it will fully or majority-own Malta Air. The sides expect to complete the transaction by the end of June.