Photo: John Visanich
The helicopter air service between Malta and Gozo provided by Malta Air Charter was shut down in 2004 with the Air Malta subsidiary being wound up sometime in November 2004. With the Mil Mi-8 Hip having no future on the Malta-Gozo island hopping service, the government was keen to find an alternative. Minister for Tourism at the time, Dr Francis Zammit Dimech, was keen to make sure that the connectivity by air on the route was maintained at all costs.
Late in 2003, the government contacted Medavia to prepare a report on the possibility of the regional operator flying the route. Under the stewardship of Managing Director Abdulrazagh Zmirli and his right hand man Mark Shaw, the airline came up with a proposal that would have seen the company flying its CASA C212-100 registered 9H-AAP on the route. Flight time excluding taxi was a mere six (6) minutes. Payload would have been limited to 15 passengers on each leg with a maximum of 20kg baggage allowance pp. The plan envisaged Medavia operating up to 5 round trips daily during the high season. In its report, the Safi-based operator proposed that LMMG would either be turned into a 1300m grass strip or else a tar runway of 1000m. There was consensus between the government at the time and Medavia that a grass strip would be the preferred choice as this had a lesser environmental impact.
Francis Zammit Dimech and his advisors had insisted on an Lm35 (€81.55) roundtrip cost for the passenger. The report had identified a price of at least Lm125 (€291.25) to make the whole project viable. Since late 2003 / early 2004 Medavia had already put forward the idea of developing the Malta to Gozo hop as a PSO (Public Service Obligation) route. The voluminous report had also noted that the government would have to subsidize each ticket by at least 75% to wet the appetite of prospective passengers willing to sojourn in Gozo.
The project came to nought after the much hyped Helicopteros del Sureste commenced flying the route with a Bell 412EP registered EC-HFD on 21st March 2005 only to escape from the island in late October 2006 without advising the relative authorities. Despite all the fanfare with which the Helisureste service from LMML to LMMG was launched, the writing was on the wall from the start. Was this a missed opportunity for Medavia, which until that time was solely focused on the Libyan market?