The answer as always is “it depends”.
For instance, if the island’s flag carrier Air Malta didn’t exist would this tiny island off the coast of Italy in the Mediterranean find itself cut off (the photo shows Valletta the rather stunning capital of Malta)? Probably not: there are plenty of airlines willing to serve Malta with connections to the wider world via London, Paris and Frankfurt.
But the government of Malta, like those in many other island states, would always be worried that it had little control over these connections.
That worry comes at a cost. The joy for airline chief executives like Joe Cappello is to try and minimise this cost, and in an ideal world make a bit of money.
As he told Airline Business last week: “I don’t need to have to be a highly profitable carrier, but my shareholder does want an airline that provides sufficient capacity for an island nation [passenger and cargo].” It is seen as a “strategic asset”, says Joe.
Making Air Malta profitable is Joe’s current task and it involves a three-year restructuring plan that features new working arrangements with staff, including possible out-sourcing, and selling off various things like hotels, its duty free operation and its office buildings in London.
The target is to get Air Malta to a breakeven or small profit in two years.
Along the way Joe hopes this small carrier, which has 11 Airbus A320 family aircraft (all leased from ILFC), will not have to ask the government for more cash. “We have never been subsidised in 35 years,” he says, and the aim is to continue that tradition.