Ryanair (FR, Dublin Int'l) is set to acquire Malta Air (MAY, Malta Int'l) amid plans to initially transfer the six B737-800s it has based out of the southern Mediterranean island to the start-up carrier.

The Irish LCC has pledged to grow Malta Air to ten aircraft within a year. It will fly under its own brand from Summer 2020 and will operate all services out of its homebase on the island. Malta Air's staff will be employed under local contracts. The completion of the transaction is planned for the end of June 2019.

Transport Malta said in a statement that it had already granted an Air Operator's Certificate (AOC) and an Air Operator License (AOL) to Malta Air.

Ryanair also said that going forward, it may move aircraft based in France, Italy, and Germany onto the Maltese AOC. It underlined that with a Maltese AOC, it had gained access to non-EU markets from Malta.

"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," CEO Michael O'Leary said.

The new airline is a partnership between Ryanair Holdings and the government of Malta, although ch-aviation has learned from an informed source that the authorities will only hold a 0.01% stake in the carrier.

Ryanair plans to develop Malta Air alongside the Maltese flag carrier, Air Malta (KM, Malta Int'l), and is not explicitly aiming to compete with the incumbent.

According to the ch-aviation capacities module, Ryanair currently operates 168 weekly departures out of Malta and is the largest carrier at the airport by weekly seating capacity with a 33% market share, ahead of Air Malta with 31.2%.

Malta Air will be the fourth unique AOC and brand within the Ryanair group of companies. Besides the Irish parent airline, the group also owns Lauda (OE, Vienna) in Austria and Ryanair Sun (RR, Warsaw Chopin) in Poland. The Polish carrier launched operations last year using a brand practically indiscernible from Ryanair itself but will be rebranded with a separate visual identity - Buzz (RR, Warsaw Chopin) - later this year.