Airline cargo may be transferred to the Freeport through a dedicated link in the future as government considers options to develop the aviation sector around the airport.
But that is just one of many ideas that are currently being evaluated as part of an airport masterplan being drawn up by Malta Industrial Parks Ltd (MIP), a government company.
Linking the Freeport zone to the airport with a dedicated route would ensure controlled transfer of cargo between the two facilities, creating an extended free trade zone.
Karl Azzopardi, CEO at MIP, told MaltaToday that the masterplan is still in its initial stages as experts are evaluating the current land uses around and within the airport grounds, while meeting with stakeholders.
Concurrently, an aviation advisory committee made up of representatives from the Tourism Ministry, the Economy Ministry and Transport Malta, is reviewing the strategies and policies to determine how the aviation sector could develop further in the immediate and long term.
“The aviation sector has experienced immense growth globally and Malta wants to be best placed to tap into this by looking at what is available and how this can be improved to accommodate other operators,” Azzopardi said of the ambitious plans.
MIP has roped in a high-profile team of specialists to assist in the drafting of the masterplan. Maltese project management and design firm IAS, German airport specialists AMD Sigma and AIRSIDE, a Swiss consultancy firm specialised in airport landside strategies, are all involved in creating the masterplan. Grant Thornton will carry out financial and economic feasibility studies.
MIP currently administers five aviation related clusters around the airport – the Safi Aviation Park, where Medavia and Aviation Cosmetics are situated; Park 4, where Lufthansa Technik is located and which, in the next two years, will house SRT’s expansion; the ex-Air Malta head offices, which house a commercial aircraft training simulator and for a temporary period, the tourism school, ITS; the Gate 1 area, next to Luqa industrial park and the old Luqa airport terminal.
Azzopardi said the masterplan will analyse current uses in these areas and determine which operations may be “optimised so as to consolidate the current land use and make space for new operations”.
This means that some of the current operations around the airport could be shifted to different locations.
Malta already has a thriving aviation sector. Apart from the obvious airport terminal operations that cater for travel in and out of the island, the airport grounds host other operations including maintenance, repairs and overhaul (MRO) facilities, aircraft painting operations and executive jet services among others.
But there are other sectors the government would like to explore. The planners have been given the opportunity to come up with “innovative but sustainable ideas”, Azzopardi said.
Executive jets and drones
One sector Malta could develop further is that for executive jets but more space would be needed to offer operators a comprehensive package. Experts will study possibilities of how current operators may be sustained while using the land to create more space for direct aviation operations.
Azzopardi said that available space – both government and private land – around the Mqabba side of the airport could be used to house companies offering ancillary services to the aviation industry. One such service that is being explored is the provision of vaults to store valuable items.
The biggest constraint is that all these operations surround Malta’s only commercial runway, which means that access within airport grounds is hindered by the heavy air traffic.
“It can sometimes take an operator quite a long time to transfer an aircraft from its hangar to another part of the airport because crossing the runway has to be done at certain times so as not to disrupt aircraft movements,” Azzopardi noted.
The masterplan will also be looking into accessibility issues within the airport grounds and outside it.
Options will be studied to see how aircraft movement around the airfield may be improved without having to cross the specific runway.
Other potential uses are the creation of a drone facility and a dedicated engine testing area that will not need to use the existing runway.
“These are just a few of the conceptual ideas that are being evaluated in order to ensure that the aviation sector can expand in a planned way,” Azzopardi said.
Masterplan by June 2019
Azzopardi said that by the end of September MIP will have mapped out all the information on current land uses and received feedback from stakeholders. It will then be able to draw up a wish list including a list of constraints.
“This exercise will give us the bigger picture, which will help us have a final draft of the masterplan by the second quarter of 2019,” he added.
Earlier this month, SR Technics, an aircraft maintenance company, announced it will expand its operation in Malta by building a new hangar to cater for six aircraft in Park 4, next to Lufthansa Technik.
The €35 million investment in the new hangar will result in 350 more jobs with the company.