Malta International Airshow

Luqa, 27-28 September 2014


In 2008, I visited Malta to discover the island and see the Malta International Airshow, which at that time was held over the sea due to construction works at the usual airport location. The impression was not entirely positive but with the return of the show to the airport a few years ago, it was time to give it another try. Was this a wise decision?


Malta is a popular tourist destination, certainly with the British but also with plenty of other Europeans looking to find some good hospitality and enjoy the sights and culture of this lovely island halfway between Europe and Africa. The look and feel of the island is very authentic for the most part, with history lurking around every corner of its busy streets. Anyone looking to explore the island can rely on its dense public transport system which is reasonably priced by Western European standards. The airshow tends to coincide with some other cultural activities in the nearby capital.


But the purpose of my visit was the Malta International Airshow, in its 20th edition in 2014. The show is organized by the Malta Aviation Society, an organization which aims to promote aviation on the island of Malta. Airshow director is Joe Ciliberti and he is in charge of a sizeable army of volunteers. In 2014, they set up their largest airshow yet at Apron 4 at Malta International Airport. Organizing any kind of air display is a challenge at a busy international airport, let alone an international airshow with a number of prime European displays. Thanks to support of air traffic control and the airport authority this is possible though, a terrific example of different organizations working towards a common goal. The enthusiasm of Joe and his team certainly pay off in this aspect.


The Malta International Airshow faced fierce airshow competition in southern Europe in 2014, with the Athens Flying Week and Barcelona’s re-born Festa al Cel both taking place the same weekend. In the days leading up to the show, two prime acts cancelled their participation: the Turkish Stars and the Belgian F-16, the latter due to the Belgian commitment to fight ISIL in Iraq, which made it impossible to detach two ground crews for two different airshows during the Malta International Airshow weekend, the Belgian F-16 taking part in Athens only.



To compensate, the RAF Red Arrows flew on both days instead of Sunday only. Their finale to the Sunday show was a blast from the past with an old-fashioned bomb-burst with aircraft splitting off in all directions like they did until the 1990s, this thanks to the offset layout of the showground.


The showground contained sufficient catering of good quality and well-priced. The center of the showground contained pavilions for the major sponsors, which are so vital to this kind of organization, even if spotters frown upon such enclosures in prime locations. It is worth remembering these enclosures help to make the show possible in the first place. Pride of place went to name sponsor AirX, a VIP charter company for luxury private jets.


The aircraft on the showground are the most important however, and what a collection it was!
The Belgian airforce may have cancelled their F-16, but they still had an Embrear 195 present carrying the groundcrew of the Red Arrows, illustrating the international cooperation of the European Air Transport Command. The crowd had a good view of all flying participants and could watch them prepare for their displays, taxi out and taxi in at the end of their performances , except for the Red Arrows and the Italian display team Frecce Tricolori, which were parked elsewhere at the airport due to space constraints. The Frecce were restricted to a low show on Sunday due to a passing low cloud but put on a full display on Saturday, during which wind conditions were so favourable their smoke blew away in the right direction and the team had clear conditions throughout.


The Spanish Patrulla Aguila drew the short straw on both days and only flew a flat and medium show, a great pity for the crews.
The withdrawal of the Belgian F-16 meant Teddi Meister in the Swiss air force F-18 Hornet flew the only fast jet display of the weekend, as always a stunning demonstration of the awesome power and incredible agility of the F-18. The other jet in attendance did not benefit from afterburner but also put in a very commendable effort, the Czech air force L-159 ALCA flown by Ondrei Spanko, in a revamped routine with some interesting highlights. A second ALCA featured in the static display and the Czech crew took great pride in participating at the show, and were rewarded with great attention and appreciation by the crowd.

The RAF had also sent to Tucano solo display with its stunning poppy-livery to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War.
The Armed Forces of Malta and Italian Air Force completed the flying display line-up, with a Maltese Alouette III opening the flying programme with the Maltese flag underneath, and the Italian AB-212 performing a search-and-rescue demonstration.


On Sunday, well before the flying programme started, there was lots of excitement because an Israeli air force Gulfstream G550 used the display runway to practice some touch-and-go’s, landed, backtracked and then took off again. This was not an airshow participant but a very welcome sight all the same and a welcome bonus! Malta often sees exotic aircraft passing through.


Speaking of exotic participants, the static display contained to remarkable gems. Despite some adverse weather along the way, the Egyptian air force managed to fly in one of its K-8 jet trainers for the static, even showing its potential weapons load-out during the weekend. This was only the second time a K-8 visited a European airshow and the first time it was an operational aircraft, not painted in the colours of the Egyptian national display team. The Egyptian air force also sent a support aircraft, a C-130, which stayed over for the weekend to make up for the loss of the United Arab Emirates C-130 which also cancelled to assist with operations against ISIL. The Egyptians really got into the spirit of things and opened their C-130 for the public in the weekend. The Egyptian aircrew were terrific ambassadors throughout the weekend!


Also getting into the spirit, the German Navy spared no effort to show their P-3 Orion and several parts of their mission-gear to the crowd. The German air force also sent over two Tornados for the static, which flanked an RAF Gr4 Tornado. The US Navy also sent a P-3 Orion of the Skinny Dragons, a very rare sight in Europe! This unit is usually based in Hawaii but was on detachment to Sigonella in Italy.
The Polish Navy also sent over a maritime patrol aircraft in the shape of an M28 Bryza.


Completing the static line-up, in addition to a number of aircraft from local aeroclubs, were an RAF King Air, 2 RAF Hawks, incidentally underlining the strong link that still exists between Malta and the UK, an Italian Coast Guard AW139 and a civilian Piaggio P180 from Italy, an outstanding-looking aircraft operated by the organization Fenicoteri. The line-up of the Armed Forces of Malta consisting of a static Alouette III, shining new AW139, Beech King Air 200, BN2 Islander and Bulldog, all of which taxied over from their hangar in the morning and then back in the warm evening light, was reason enough to pay the show a visit, as these aircraft hardly ever show themselves abroad.


So, what about second chances? It is clear the show benefited from being held at the airport again, offering a more comprehensive package than the split setup of static at the airport and show over the sea in 2008. It may seem insignificant at first but it really does add to the whole experience. For reasons of disclosure, I should add I was invited by the organizers of the Malta Aviation Society and produced both the video report and promotional videos for the show, but even so, my experience and feeling of the show is immensely different. Yes, there are gaps which are inevitable with the limitations of organizing a show at an international airport. Having the static display at the same place helps alleviate this problem, even more so with the high-quality offering in the static park. Seeing the display aircraft start up and return from their flight and meeting the crew is an additional bonus for both the crew and audience, which was evidenced throughout the weekend. While photographing for clean shots during the “rush hours” of the weekend may be difficult, with the crowd being allowed both in front and behind the static aircraft, it is possible with a bit of patience towards the end of the day, or with the use of the spotters package which is on offer each year and allows enthusiasts onto the apron of the airshow for arrivals and departures allowing clear shots with often stunning backgrounds of typical Malta-scenery.


What does this mean? For me, a big thumbs up for the Malta International Airshow in its full on-airport variant. The enthusiasm of the organizing team and volunteers are infectious, and with the often exotic participants, the show is well worth a visit from everyone, this from one aviation enthusiast to another. Make sure you do it at least once! I have no doubt many will decide it tastes like something you want more of. I have decided I really do!