Air Malta (KM, Malta Int'l) may not operate planned routes to New York and Toronto Pearson if its relations with its pilots turn sour, Konrad Mizzi, the country's minister for tourism, has warned.

The state-owned airline has experienced a wave of pilots calling in sick as pressure builds to sign a new collective agreement with them, with 12 pilots doing so on September 14 and 13 pilots on September 9, the minister revealed. He described them as “abnormal levels of sickness”, the Times of Malta reported.

Speaking at an event marking the delivery of a new A320neo for the flag carrier, Mizzi said the government would decide in the coming months whether to operate these high-value routes via Air Malta - its first to North America - or with Malta MedAir. The latter was originally set up by the government in 2018 to store Air Malta’s lucrative slots at London Heathrow and London Gatwick.

As previously reported, the minister commented in a Facebook post in early July that the government was considering using Malta MedAir as a platform for growth, including long-haul, if labour disputes continued to blight Air Malta.

The government and Air Malta are ready to sign a new collective agreement with the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA), Mizzi said, but will not agree to demands for a guarantee on a generous early retirement scheme.

“We are currently evaluating the possibility of having an extended-range aircraft, an A321 that can get us to New York, but to get to this stage, we must ensure that the collective agreements in place allow this aircraft to be operated,” he said, adding that without such reassurance another company may have to operate the routes.

Air Malta currently operates one A319-100, seven A320-200s, and three A320-200neo, according to the ch-aviation fleets advanced module. Malta MedAir operates a single A320-200.