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MALTATODAY 22 January 2023

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3 maltatoday | SUNDAY • 22 JANUARY 2023 NEWS CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 Numerous helicopter opera- tors and even a seaplane service to the island have failed in their bids to achieve a viable opera- tion to connect the two islands by air. In his comment, Sant said any fixed-wing service was bound to fail and would open the Ta' Lambert area for further construction and urbanisation. But the GTA claimed the ab- sence of the fixed-wing service was "justice delayed" for Gozitan economic growth. "With the same argument, was it an ab- surd idea that along the years the much-needed improvement on the roads network on the Maltese Islands was carried out with millions upon millions be- ing invested in numerous road projects? In this regard which road on the Maltese islands is commercially and financially vi- able?" The GTA said all roads re- quired capital to build and funds for maintenance, without any tolls from users. "The same ap- plies to the sea and air links between Malta and Gozo. That is why the present ferry service between Mġarr and Cirkewwa is supported by a public service obligation contract (PSO). That is why the government is pres- ently discussing with the EU a similar public service obligation contract to cover the fast-ferry service between Mġarr and Val- letta." Sant had famously put a stop to the Gozo airstrip as one of his actions upon election in 1996, and has kept up his opposition to the extension of the runway. Sant said he was surprised at the support for the airstrip from the business community. "In no way can I see how fixed-wing trips, with a regular schedule or not, for passengers from Malta to Gozo, can be commercially viable." Sant said that the prospect of a viable fixed-wing service was even less credible than the pros- pect that a fast-ferry service be- tween Malta and Gozo shared between two competing opera- tors, could deliver a profit. "The fact that this project is al- lowed to fail, if it ever even gets off the ground, is being ignored by all and sundry," Sant said on his Facebook page. "In the meantime, more Gozitan countryside will be gob- bled up and destroyed before this project finally collapses, so that eventually some residential block, some commercial project is built around it, and a thou- sands more requests from Ċikku and Peppi to take their slice of this agricultural land to build upon. "Not to forget the construction barons! Gozo deserves more re- spect." Controversially, the Environ- ment and Resources Authori- ty has exempted the proposed "rural airfield" in Xewkija in Gozo from the need of a full En- vironment Impact Assessment (EIA), after concluding that the impacts of the development are unlikely to be significant to the point of warranting such a study. Instead of seeking an EIA on the introduction of the fixed- wing service and extension of the airfield, it has called for a separate study on the airfield's noise impact. The Planning Authority has requested the Gozo Ministry to prepare a Social Impact Assess- ment (SIA) on the impact of the proposed airstrip. The EIA waiver will facilitate the Gozo ministry's 2023 dead- line for the completion of the project, which has only had pre- liminary studies that fall short of an EIA, whose terms must be drafted in a public consultation of residents and NGOs. The existing Ta' Lambert run- way will be extended from its current 174 metres, to a total length of 445m and a safety area of 30m on each end of the air- strip. The ERA said the upgrade and extension of the runway and the construction of the aprons will take up an approximate area of 40,000sq.m, which is currently covered by soil. Around 6,000 cubic metres of topsoil will be excavated, and partly re-used on site and for nearby agricultural land. The Gozo Ministry says any provider will be "encouraged" to adopt an all-electric fleet by 2025, a specification that will be included in the tender. But plans also foresee an open-air, small- scale fuelling depot by the gen- eral aviation aircraft. PSO for Gozo air, say tourism operators CONTINUED FROM PAGE 1 "They asked what Grech was doing to make his leadership feel more present." Another MP confirmed the details of the par- liamentary group meeting, saying MPs believe Grech has been under-performing more than usual, particularly when it comes to articulating PN vision. "Carabott and Giglio made it a point to address the issue," the MP said. "The meeting was meant to discuss the plan of action for each of the PN's new spokespersons and their portfolios. Grech asked whether all MPs could present him with a report on the deliverables of each sector." Two other MPs canvassed by this newspaper on the meeting said there was no talk about chal- lenging Grech's leadership. "The feeling certainly is not about revolt, but about sensitising Grech about his diminishing role in the political arena... even MPs know that there is no time for blood-let- ting inside the PN, but Grech is being told that unless he makes his presence felt, he must know when to make way for a new leader." Another MP ruled out the prospect of repeat- ing the coup that took down Adrian Delia and installed Grech in a leadership election. "We can't afford any division – but many MPs want to convince Grech he should make way for a serene leadership race." Aides that were by the side of Bernard Grech in a bid to bolster his leadership – Alessandro Farrugia, Ray Bezzina, Simon Vella Gregory, Jer- emy Gingell and former election strategist Chris Peregin – have left the PN leader bereft of polit- ical minds to assist him in responding to a crisis. "When Fenech Adami was on Andrew Azzopardi on 103FM and the broadcaster brought up the issue that heavyweights Mario De Marco, Chris Said and Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici had been left without a portfolio... lo and behold, a reshuffle takes place and Grech responds by giving them a role." Former deputy leader Mario Marco is now re- sponsible for tourism, Mifsud Bonnici is the spokesperson for constitutional reform and for- mer Gozo heavyweight Chris Said was made re- sponsible for social dialogue and quality of life. "He is alone and, apparently, inspires no one to work for him," one MP, a former supporter of Grech's election, said. "He no longer commands that same respect he had upon election." At the same parliamentary meeting, it appears that former party leader Adrian Delia was in- volved in a minor discussion over comments made by MP Claudette Buttigieg, referring to a radio interview in which she declared having "no regrets" in opposing Delia's continued party leadership in 2020. Buttigieg shared a conciliatory remark with Delia over her comments in a bid to avert any misunderstanding. Grech presence 'diminished

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