2011 European Airshows

OCT 10 2011
Airshows >> Europe: Malta International Air Show 2011 - Review

Graced with perfect air show weather, something that we don't hear very often in the UK, the show was attended by over 24,000 people, which equates to 6% of the whole population of Malta.

With Malta's geographical location being so close to Libya, preparations for the 2011 Air Show were always going to be testing.

The ongoing NATO operation, "Unified Protector" utilises airspace over and around the Maltese Islands, and Luqa, the Malta International Airport, is a vital hub for humanitarian flights and MEDEVAC operations. This obviously affected the planning of the show as the needs for these operations differ and each pose problems such as adhoc movements and the need for ramp space all of which need to be taken in to consideration.

Luqa is also the primary diversion airfield for NATO and coalition aircraft in the area. Couple this with the fact the the air show is integrated in amongst the normal daily operations of the Malta International Airport and a considerable amount of praise must go to all the Maltese agencies involved. Congratulations must also go to Ian Sheeley and his TSA colleagues for managing to run a safe and successful show with all these other distractions going on.

Those enthusiasts that were present to photograph the arrivals on Friday afternoon witnessed the part being played by Luqa firsthand when two helicopters from Qatar dropped in for a fuel stop.

Headlining the 2011 show was the Italian national display team, the Frecce Tricolori. The team, flying ten MB339 aircraft, gave a typically polished and dynamic display. After marking the crisp blue sky with the Italian national flag the routine was concluded with musical accompaniment from Luciano Pavarotti's rendition of Nessun Dorma to huge cheers from the delighted crowd.

Another display team joining the Frecce in thrilling the crowd - albeit in a slightly more reserved manner - was the Swiss PC-7 team, whose red and white aircraft looked great against the deep blue sky.

The Royal Air Force has a long and historic association with Malta and its people and was represented in the flying display by the Tornado GR.4 Role Demo Team. The two GR.4s certainly won the prize for the most noise and speed at the show - something that is vital in providing that WOW factor on the airshow circuit. The team's attendance at the show was really appreciated by the organisers and spectators alike.

Star of the show though for many of the local people was the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Dakota, ZA947 'Kwicherbichen'. The C-47 gave a spirited display during the show and stayed in Malta for a couple of days after the show to perform a ceremonial flypast at the opening of the new hangar at the Malta Aviation Museum.

As you would expect, the Air Wing of the Armed Forces of Malta plays a large part in the show, both on the ground and in the air. This year's show provided the perfect opportunity to show off its newest asset, the Beechcraft BE200 King Air. The King Air was present in the static display but was towed out each afternoon to take part in the flying display. The King Air gives the Air Wing a much needed step forward in capability, performance and range at a time when it is really needed.

Supporting the King Air in the flying display was a pair of Alouette III helicopters, one sporting the new colour scheme. Concluding the rotary element of the flying display was the Italian Air Mission AB212, which gave an SAR role demonstration.

Several local civilian types were also flown during the display, these included a Learjet 60 and the odd looking Piaggio 206.

The Malta International Air Show has always had a well supported static display. This year was no exception. The Royal Air Force sent examples of both the Hawk and Tucano.

The United States provided the largest types in the form of a C-130J from the 37th AS, 86th AW, Ramstein AB, Germany, and a P-3C Orion from VP-5 'Mad Foxes' detached at Sigonella, alongside smaller examples in the shape of a C-21A Learjet and C-26 Metroliner.

Meanwhile, making the Service's Maltese debut was the Polish Navy which sent an M-28 Bryza, much to the delight of the local enthusiasts.

For fans of helicopters there were several examples on display, these included a US Navy MH-60S from HCS-28 'Dragon Whales' and a brand new Augusta Westland AW139, operated by the Italian Guardia Di Finanza.

Much talk in the lead up to the show was about the possible inclusion of the exiled Libyan Mirage F1s which defected to Malta on February 21st. After much negotiation it was agreed by the authorities to allow one of the two aircraft to be exhibited.

Air Show organiser Joe Ciliberti has worked tirelessly over many years to get Libyan participation at the show and, although the circumstances were probably not how he originally envisaged, he was delighted to finally achieve his dream.

However, the agreement to display the Libyan Mirage, started much negotiation and diplomatic engagement that resulted in an agreement being reached that saw a high-level delegation from the Free Libya movement attend the air show on the Sunday.

After special clearance was given by NATO for two aircraft to leave the no-fly zone, an AN-26 and BAe 146 arrived at Luqa carrying a high level Libyan delegation.

In a poignant ceremony the travelling party, led by Libyan Air Force Brigadier General Mohammed Rajab, replaced the all green roundel on the F1 with a new one in colours of the Free Libyan Air Force amid applause, victory signs and chants of Allah Hu Akbar ('Allah is the greatest').

Brig Rajab flew to Malta on the Air Libya BAe 146, which at the height of the Libyan uprising was used in 32 covert flights, landing on roads in the middle of the desert to supply arms and ammunition to the rebels and then fly out with injured fighters. The highly-dangerous operations were carried out despite a UN-mandated no-fly zone over Libya.

"We did these flights without even thinking of the dangers," said Capt Ali Samoussi, who piloted the aircraft. Capt Samoussi and other Libyan officers repeatedly thanked Malta for its support to Libya and a plaque was presented to the Malta Aviation Society, which organises the airshow.

Also present at the ceremony was Libyan ambassador, Saddun Suayeh, who stated he felt the replacement of the roundel was a moment of "pride, joy and honour," and he hoped he would soon see the fighter jets returning to Libya, sporting the independence flag.

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