Very little is known about the Air Albania project, besides the short public statements by Prime Minister Edi Rama, almost always consisting of brief, propagandistic posts on his Facebook page.
It has now become clear that the project is a personal initiative of the Prime Minister’s and every decision regarding it has been taken by him personally and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, bypassing all institutions and legal requirements relating to public policy and decision making.
Exit has compiled a summary of public information regarding this project, as well as some of the main questions surrounding it.
A timeline of the project
It is not known when the Prime Minister first came up with the idea of reviving a national Albanian airline. However, he first spoke about it in public during an interview with Enver Robelli, on March 30, 2017:
We plan on founding an airline based in Albania, an Albanian airline in cooperation with Turkish Airlines and AtlasGlobal.
On May 8, 2017, Edi Rama received Turkish Airlines Executive Director İlker Aycı in his office. They gave a joint press statement, in which they publicly announced the plan to create an Albanian airline, in cooperation with Turkish Airlines and under the personal care of the Turkish president. Rama stated:
Mr.Aycı and I discussed the project I have talked about before, the creation of an Albanian airline company, that is now in the plans, thanks to the special support of president Erdoğan and the technical assistance of the Turkish Airline team.
The Prime Minister also explained that the creation of an airline company is part of a larger initiative, that also includes the construction of the Vlora airport, and said that work on the airport “continues, with the support of president Erdoğan.”
Meanwhile, the Turkish Airlines executive revealed the personal nature of the decision making process:
Our president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has had many talks with Mr. Edi Rama, and, among the main issues they have discussed, has been our cooperation in the sector of civil aviation, under the powerful leadership of Albania’s Prime Minister, Turkish Airlines will support Albania’s achievements during these years.
Based on the joint agreement reached by the Turkish president and the Albanian Prime Minister, we are working hard to bring to life their joint vision.
Two months later, on July 10, 2017, Edi Rama visited Turkey and met, once again, with President Erdoğan. He reasserted that with Erdoğan’s support Air Albania will be created and the Vlora airport will be built. He also visited the Turkish Airlines headquarters and spoke with Executive Director Aycı, who after the meeting said:
Currently, there is no Albanian airline company. For this reason, Mr. Edi Rama has diligently worked to create an Albanian company that will connect Albania with the region and the world.
On November 21, 2017, Edi Rama announced the name of the company, Air Albania, posting an image of a plane emblazoned with those words on his Facebook page, with the caption “Coming Soon.”
On March 22, 2018, Rama went to Turkey to meet President Erdoğan once again. He gave no details regarding the purpose of the visited or the issues that were discussed, besides a Facebook post saying:
Work dinner with president Erdoğan, talking about the progress of our countries’ financial cooperation; the ongoing projects of Vlora International Airport and Air Albania
The next day, on March 23, 2018, Rama posted yet another image on Facebook, depicting him and Turkish Airlines’ Executive Director. He wrote he was in Aycı’s office “to discuss the final stages of our airline company project, Air Albania, which is being planned with the help of the Turkish air travel giant.”
On April 12, 2018, Rama posted a promotional video on his Facebook page, calling “any young woman or man that meets the criteria and would like to compete for a spot in the staff of the black-and-red company” to apply for a job in the company Air Albania. The video and the post were rife with patriotic symbolism and rhetoric.
It seems that after the recruitment, on May 11, 2018, Rama organized a meeting in the Prime Ministry building with those he called “the guys and girls of the first Albanian air crew,” during which, among other things, he stated:
Air Albania is particularly important, because it is the first airline company flying under our flag, the first publicly funded airline company.
(Both statements are, in fact, false. Albanian Airlines, founded in 1992, was the first publicly funded airline flying under the Albanian flag)
A few days later, on May 16, 2018, at last, the first legal and formal act regarding Air Albania took place. Via Decision of the Council of Ministers no. 309, dated May 16, 2018, the government decreed the creation of the company Air Albania, owned by Albcontrol sha, Turkish Airlines, and MND Investment shpk.
The decree provides that the Albanian partners, Albcontrol and MND Investment, must hold the majority of the shares, that is, at least 51%. According to the decree, the division of the shares is to be negotiated among the parties.
This decree proves that everything that had taken place until then, including the recruitment of the flight crew, had been extra-institutional. In fact, the company Air Albania has not yet been founded and registered, and remains a personal project of Prime Minister Rama, who takes advantage of his office to bypass basic procedures.
Air Albania shareholders
Air Albania will be a public–private partnership project, with its partners consisting of a Turkish government-owned company, an Albanian government-owned company, and a private company.
Albcontrol sha is a owned by the Albanian government via the Ministry of Finance and Economy, and manages Albania’s airspace in compliance with international air navigation standards.
Turkish Airlines, a major international airline, is primarily owned by the Turkish government, who holds 49.12% of its shares, whereas 50.88% are publicly traded.
MND Investment shpk is a private company that was created nearly two months ago, on May 7, 2018, merely 9 days before the government decree that made it a shareholder of Air Albania. The seed money for the company reached about €100,000 and is fully owned by Sinan Idrizi.
Idrizi, entirely unknown to the public until now, has no known activity in Albania and has not claimed to own any businesses anywhere else in the world. In a few recent public appearances, he has stated that he has business ties to Turkey, where, it seems, he used to live for many years before returning to Albania in 2014. He did not, however, give any further details or references.
The only thing we do know about him is that he is one of the owners and the administrator of the football team Flamurtari. Nonetheless, it is unclear where the money used to fund the team comes from. As Flamurtari’s president, he received a penalty from the Albanian Football Federation in May 2018, prohibiting him from participating in any football event for 16 months, as result of assaulting a referee.
What is worthy to note that Idrizi has been present in several meetings with Erdoğan and Aycı, which implies that he has been involved with the project since its first stages. Why Prime Minister Rama or president Erdoğan handpicked Idrizi as “investor” remains to be seen.
We still don’t know how many shares will go to what shareholder, nor what parts of the seed money were invested by which partner.
It is particularly mysterious why the involvement of MND Investment in this project was necessary, seeing that the company has just been created, lacks both capital and experience, and is owned by someone with neither relevant background nor obvious connection to the project.
Partner investments and contributions
There re no financial or technical data pertaining to this project. In fact, no government documentation, be it survey, analysis, or any other kind of document regarding the project exists.
In his meeting with Prime Minister Rama in Tirana, in May 2017, Turkish Airlines executive Aycı declared that the company was carrying out a feasibility study. However the conclusions of this study have yet to be made public.
A lot remains unclear, including but not limited to the total cost of the initial investment, what the contributions of each partner will be, and who will be responsible for funding operations until the company is able to cover the costs. Obviously, all of this has been discussed by Rama and his Turkish partners. However, it remains unclear to the Albanian public in spite of the considerable public investment in the project.