(testo e foto di Mauro Finati)

Malta is an archipelago made up of a handful of islands scattered in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 80 km south of Sicily and 300 km off the coast of Libya. It has been Britain's main forward base in the Central Med for a century and a half and an important stepping stone towards Africa and Middle-East.

Malta gained its independence on September 1964; anyway a Treaty was signed with the UK in which the British Armed Forces was granted the use of bases and military facilities within the Maltese territory, with an obligation of defending the islands from external aggressor and, above all, of providing full SAR coverage until their complete withdrawal from the Country in 1979.

It was not before the year 1971 that steps were made by the Maltese Government to build up an aviation component within their armed forces. In fact, a Helicopter Flight was set up with the aid of West German which included the training of the first pilots and technicians, the technical assistance and, above all, the donation of four surplus helicopter in the form of three AB-47G-2 and a single B-47G-2.

In 2004 Malta become a UE member and since 2008 it joined the Eurozone monetary system, allowing the Maltese balance to improve considerably. Money flooding into Malta helped the Air Wing to re-equip with more modern aircraft, helicopters and infrastructures. In February 2011 and March 2012 the Armed Forces of Malta has taken delivery of two Hawker Beech King Air B200 maritime patrol aircraft. These aircraft was bought and fitted to Malta's requirements as part of a ?19.4m project co-financed by the European Union's External Borders Fund. These aircraft are intended to be mainly employed for surveillance, border control, fisheries protection and Search and Rescue.

A mayor boost in modernizing the Air Wing's helicopter component materialized in June 2014 when the first of two brand new Leonardo Helicopters AW-139, coded AS1428, has been delivered, followed by AS1429 in December. These helicopters are part of the ongoing plan to strengthen the capabilities of the Armed Forces of Malta and again have been acquired with the help of the European Borders Fund and the International Security Fund Programs, with the aims of increasing the Country's national security and, above all, its rescue operations capability. An additional AW-139 has joined the Armed Forces of Malta, supplementing the two already in service. The new helicopter, AS1630 (c/n 31625, ex I-PTFT), was delivered on September 22, 2016. Deliveries of these new rotorcraft allowed the phasing-out of the old Alouettes.

Meanwhile, the Air Wing has begun a process of rationalization. The oldest helicopters and aircraft of the Air Squadron has been withdrawn from service and stored or put for sale. The single piston engined BN Islander is no longer operated as well as the ex RAF Bulldogs have been placed in storage awaiting for disposal together with the two ex Guardia di Finanza NH-500. A single Alouette III, still painted in the old white/green scheme, has been delivery to the Malta Aviation Museum, located on the former Royal Air Force Station of Ta'Qali.

The AFM's Air Wing is today based at Luqa International Airport, west of the main runway and just opposite to the new terminal, in an area once part of the RAF Luqa and home base of the No.13 Squadron. No later than October 2014 the newly refurbished Hangar 3 has been officially inaugurated together with a number of support facilities, amongst these a brand new operational buildings thus bringing the complex of the Air Wing's facilities to a standard matching the new technological level reached by that Maltese flight asset. The new facilities has been co-financed 25% by the Maltese Government and 75% by the European Union through the Solidarity and Management of Migration Flows 2007-2013 General Programme.

The facilities at Luqa Airport host the Air Wing HQ, the HQ Squadron, the Operation Squadron and the Support Squadron, all forming the AFM's Air Wing. The flight operational units are the Fixed Wing Flight, the Rotary Wing Flight and the Rescue Section, all belongings to the Operation Squadron. The Air Wing does not have a true military role as the main tasks are to provide Maritime Surveillance, sea and land Search and Rescue, Medical Evacuation, reconnaissance and aerial photography. More military related roles are security escort, limited fire support and troops transport.

The AFM Air Wing is assisted by the Italian Air Force's (AMI) two AB-212 search and rescue (SAR) helicopters. This deployment is known as MICCD (Missione Italiana di Collaborazione nel Campo della Difesa) and was also dubbed as MIATM (Missione Italiana di Assistenza Tecnico-Militare). Italy kept permanently based at Luqa two helicopters since 1982; initially in the form of AB-204 then replaced by the more performing e reliable twin engined AB-212s. Maltese pilots and SAR operators usually join the crew during flight operations. However, in these situations the mission command is always reserved to an Italian officer.




2017©Mauro Finati/aviobook.com