Insights into the aviation industry in Malta
with Dr Tonio Fenech of ARQ Group and Fenech Farrugia Fiott, as seen in Aviation Malta.
Harmonisation and collaboration through collective thinking.
If you have ever needed a lawyer for aviation matters, the chances are you’ve met or heard of Dr Tonio Fenech of Fenech Farrugia Fiott. Committed to delivering practical wisdom and servicing the needs of clients across the aviation industry, he uses his legal knowledge and experience of aviation, asset finance and aircraft leasing to deliver clear-cut legal advice that is as insightful as it is useful.
“As a Lawyer and a Maltese citizen, I have always believed that a collaborative approach is an ideal asset that will help the Maltese aviation industry to flourish. In Malta, the aviation industry is robustly regulated, yet decision makers remain highly accessible”.
If you spend any time with Tonio, you will see that he truly believes and understands this mantra when describing the opportunities that Malta can provide, or “The Beauty of Small” as he likes to refer to it. “Malta is small but it’s in the EU and is at all the right tables. Also, holding the EU presidency in 2017 certainly brought this home to not only the Maltese population but the rest of the EU as a whole”.
Having been in practice for over 30 years representing the 4th generation of lawyers in his family, Tonio studied for his Master’s in Maritime and Aviation Law in London, which led him to being invited to join Air Malta as external counsel, because at that time Air Malta had no in-house legal team. He has also gained his doctorate in Maltese Law and is now also a visiting lecturer at the University of Malta in the field of asset finance, insurance and trust law. Lecturing is very important to Tonio. “It is essential that learning is lifelong, and that knowledge is transferred to younger generations at every opportunity”.
Tonio’s professional career has seen him developing better forms of organization for law firms, but has also pioneered the development of professional services through collaborative platforms that bring together autonomous centres of expertise for the development of integrated solutions. “A collaborative approach helps ensure that the best brains on the island are harnessed in the interest of any client, even where issues become complex and beyond the reach of less-than-giant infrastructures”. His law firm collaborates with other professionals regularly, and is also a founding collaborative partner of ARQ Group, a multi-disciplinary professional services organization where different centres of expertise have developed in various fields of professional services, including corporate, accounting and trust services, also developing strong advisory practices in such field as taxation, compliance, business intelligence, the gaming industry, financial services and others. The aviation sector is also approached in a multi-disciplinary manner, with particular experience enjoyed in the corporate and accounting fields. These complement the legal services provided by the law firm in a seamless manner.
An early adopter of the Cape Town Convention…the fruition of past and future thinking.
Tonio believes that Malta has been particularly adept at identifying sectors which were approached systemically to the point where Malta has become an international centre of excellence. “This has certainly been true for the maritime sector, where Malta now has one of the largest ship registers in the world”, says Tonio, “and the same approach is also leading to success in the aviation field”. He states that the island’s culture has helped it to develop an integrated legal system which allows Anglo-Saxon asset finance and corporate concepts to sit successfully with continental civil law mechanisms.
Another important factor is forward thinking, which has long been a necessity for an island which has no natural resources other than the intelligence of its people. “As an early adopter of the Cape Town Convention (CTC), Malta has approached the aviation sector in a manner that has allowed a strong, diversified cluster to develop.” He points to the growing number of aircraft registered in Malta as well as a good number of Operators gaining ground on the island. Other service organizations, including major aircraft maintenance and repair facilities, are also present, to the point that operators have started to recognize Malta as a territory where talent and experience in the sector can readily be found.
This “bring talent and good ideas together” maxim, is a theme that runs through our time together. His optimism is infectious and it’s this positivity that has delivered dividends for both FFF and ARQ as well as the Maltese aviation industry as a whole.
When asked about possible challenges that the future may bring, Tonio was a little more circumspect but again optimistic, particularly when asked about the issues arising with space. Among his clientele are international aircraft maintenance organizations that have chosen to develop a substantial presence in Malta, and clearly space is an issue high on their list of challenges. “Aircraft require physical space, which comes at a premium. This implies an opportunity for the development of collaborative practices which might ultimately lead to space and resource sharing”.
When asked about the benefits of the Maltese Aircraft Register, Tonio responded with “There are various benefits: First, our legal system allows for industry standard asset finance methodologies to be adopted, while our corporate law and fiduciary concepts are forward-looking and well regulated. Ratification of the Cape town Convention has certainly also helped, as has our taxation system.” Essentially, Malta has a full imputation system, which has allowed for interesting tax planning opportunities, complemented by a wide network of double taxation avoidance treaties. In general, Tonio describes the Maltese regulatory environment as business-friendly but robust, with regulators who do not shy away from positive engagement with operators.
Going beyond tribal…the power of project-driven integration.
“As a full-service law firm, we are committed to delivering a full suite of services to the aviation industry. Through our collaborative involvement with ARQ, we now offer fully integrated corporate services, including accounting support by people who have active experience in the industry. With ARQ, we have gone beyond tribal in the sense that we have ventured into multi-disciplinary realms. We believe our approach is building a reality where the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts”.
When asked on the future of the Maltese aviation, Tonio was no less engaging. “I believe that the future for the industry is bright. The Government was important in the beginning to give that nudge in the right direction through regulatory insight and planning, but also through strategic intervention. This initial insight has developed broadly, and today the island is increasingly becoming a magnet because operators are recognising that, besides a solid, business friendly regulatory environment, they can find experienced talent in the industry, as well as solid professional support.”