2015 is a landmark year in Malta's aviation history. On 13 February 1915, a British Shorts 135 aircraft was airlifted from HMS Ark Royal and gently lowered in to the waters of Grand Harbour, Valletta, to undertake the first-ever flight in Malta. This fateful flight marked the beginning of the first 100 years of aviation in Malta.
Malta Aviation Society President Joe Ciliberti explained that while aviation was mainly a military endeavour in those early years, Malta began getting a taste of commercial aviation just before the beginning of the Second World War by way of mail, arriving by air from Italy. British European Airways began proper fare-paying passenger flights from Northolt in 1947, followed a year later by Alitalia, operating flights from Catania and Rome".
"Joint Maltese and British entrepreneurs sensed the importance of commercial flight activity to and from Malta, and a sequence of small companies joined with others in the late forties, including the Malta Air merger which eventually became Air Malta. This, in turn, was brought to an abrupt end when British shareholders pulled the plug on the airline. Malta Airways was then created and British European Airways had a fair share in the running of the airline," he said.
"Malta's aviation world saw two parallel aspects of aviation during the post-war period, with British and NATO forces focused on Cold War issues and basing a number of aircraft on the island. This, while the importance of commerce and tourism was equally attended to by the arrival of a good number of airlines that started operations to and from Malta. In 1973, Air Malta was formed and the following year, the airline flew its first commercial flight to London and later on to Rome. Air Malta began with two leased Boeing 720Bs from Pakistan Airlines that served the airline well in those early days".
Mr Cilberti said that during the same period, Malta saw the birth of its proper military aviation sector with the arrival of four Bell 47G2 helicopters, donated by West Germany. "At that time, they served as the aerial component of the Malta Police known as the Task Force, before eventually being passed on to the Armed Forces of Malta. The AFM later created its own aviation component, known as the Air Wing, which name subsists to this day. The Air Wing has made great strides over the last years and while it started off as a small unit made up of donated, second-hand assets, it now boasts brand-new, state-of-the-art surveillance aircraft and search and rescue helicopters".
Malta's first years of aviation may be roughly divided in two - the first 50 years, when Malta was a colony and aviation was mostly in the hands of Britain, and the second 50 years, when after 1964, the Island gradually became more responsible for its own commercial aviation activity, he explained. "This included the running of the airport itself, legislation, air traffic control, aviation security, weather services, etc.
"The transition, though difficult, was a relatively smooth one, in that Malta succeeded in not only catching up with the fast-developing aviation sector but also leaping ahead in some quarters and establishing itself in a number of niches existent in this important industry. Flight training, aircraft maintenance and aircraft registration are three extremely important sectors that Malta is actively and successfully dealing with at present. Malta must continue seeking new opportunities while flying safely towards continuous success", he concluded.
On 10 February, an event was held celebrating Malta's 100 years of aviation, where the AFM's Air Wing, as well as Lufthansa, Medavia and SR Technics, opened up their hangars to the general public. Yesterday, a flypast was organised involving a number of aircraft belonging to Maltese companies as well as the Armed Forces of Malta. The events were organised by the Ministry for Tourism.
Photos: Godfrey Mangion