As of yesterday, Air Albania still remains unlicensed by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) meaning they are unable to fly within the European Union. A country such as Albania, wishing to make use of routes within the EU must apply for a Third Country Operator (TCO) license, but as of the time of writing, it appears not to have been granted.
As per the official list of TCO-authorised airlines, the only airline in Albania with a TCO authorisation is Albawings.
Air Albania has been advertising flights and may have already sold tickets to Italy, yet with just days to go before the supposed launch, this could be something of a PR disaster for both Air Albania and Prime Minister Edi Rama.
The Albanian Civil Aviation has reacted to an article published by Panorama yesterday, saying that they were not refused. They have stated that they will be “wet-leasing” aircraft from Turkish Airlines in the meantime.
The concept of “wet leasing” is one where an airline can lease aircraft from another airline and enjoy the benefits that that airline enjoys. Air Albania, who are unlicensed by the EASA at the present moment, will now wet-lease aircraft from Turkish Airlines (who obtained EASA TCO authorisation in 2015) allowing them to conduct flights to and from Europe under the license of Turkish Airlines.
Turkish Airlines would become the recognised entity and would be legally, financially, and technically responsible for Air Albania, who would effectively become a subsidiary of Turkish Airlines. It would also allow them to circumnavigate the possible refusal of the EASA, avert a PR crisis, and allow flights to depart for tickets that have allegedly already been sold.
If this were to happen, it could also mean that Air Albania does not actually exist, as it will be a Turkish majority-owned airline, with Turkish aircraft, that could be wholly controlled by Turkish Airlines.
Possible reasons behind the current lack of a license for Air Albania’s by the EASA could be due to the 10% state ownership through state agency ALBCONTROL, Panorama reported. This agency manages the airspace for civil aviation and is required to be neutral with any airlines flying to Albania, therefore partial ownership in an airline is considered as a conflict of interest, which would not be permitted.
Secondly, as per Albanian law and European rules, the license can only be issued if the company is in a healthy financial condition which could allow it to withstand several months of loss-making operations. Panorama alleged that according to the 2018 Air Albania financial report, the company lacks such financial means.
Lastly, also as per Albanian law and European rules, the validity of the license is conditional on the effective control of the company by nationals of the issuing state, in this case, Albanian nationals or EU nationals. The Administrator of the company Air Albania is reportedly a Turkish citizen, born in Istanbul and a proxy representative of Turkish Airlines, therefore failing to satisfy the necessary criteria.
In addition to this individual, Panorama reported that the Air Director, Trainer, and Maintenance Director of Air Albania are also Turkish citizens, therefore potentially making the airline not under Albanian control. The 41% of shares are allegedly owned by Turkish-Albanian citizens, and 49% of the shares are owned by Turkish Airlines. The Albanian government owns only 10% of the shares.
Whilst this article was being written, Panorama removed yesterday’s article from their website.