EU: Reviving Seaplanes On The Island Of Malta
Megaliths, medieval dungeons and Calypso’s Cave – Those who have visited the archipelago of Malta will have left with impressions that will last them a lifetime. The narrow meandering streets of the towns and villages, the baroque churches, the medieval towers, wayside chapels and some of the oldest known human built structures in the world, but also the pristine beaches will be stored in memory for good.
Returning seaplanes to be a permanent fixture in Malta is the goal of Jonathan Galea. As head of the Malta Seaplanes Association he has been the main driving force behind the Roberts Cup, which in October 2018 entered its third edition. We spoke with Galea about the four day event during which seaplanes master the path from Como, Italy to the Grand Harbour in Malta.
The next Roberts Cup is planned for October 3-6, 2019 and increasing participation from abroad is the big target. In fact, the real challenge to develop this annual event to its full potential is identifying aircraft and pilots fit for the task. Optimistic estimates indicate that in Europe there are barely 150 seaplanes and many of them can’t handle a long distance “ordeal” like the Como-Malta run. The number of pilots with a valid seaplane rating is not much higher than the number of seaplanes, either.
A Tiny Glimpse Into The History
The first recorded flight in Malta was made by Cecil F. Kilner on a Short Type 135 seaplane, which flew over the Grand Harbour on February 13, 1915. The aircraft was aboard the first purposely-built seaplane carrier HMS Ark Royal and later saw action in the Dardanelles and at Gallipoli. The aircraft and its pilot had participated in the unprecedented ship-based air raid at Cuxhaven, Germany on Christmas Day 1914.
Malta went on to become a primary Royal Naval Air Service seaplane base with a slipway and hangar built in 1916 in what would later become RAF Kalafrana. Like in many other European countries, Seaplanes and flying boats remained a regular sight in Malta until the early 50’s and then slowly faded into oblivion.
Its Time for Malta’s Government to Act
Like in some other European countries, a lack of action by Malta’s politicians is preventing the country from reclaiming its wonderful seaplane history and – in the process – from creating a tourism goldmine. The touristic benefit for areas frequented by seaplanes has been proven beyond reasonable doubt and Malta’s up-market tourism product needs these types of services to help develop the previously neglected port areas of the Islands.
Galea is a tireless supporter of seaplanes and aviation in Malta and he has other highly ambitious projects in mind. There is a proposal for a world-class seaplane museum that has already been raised with both the government and the private sector.
Galea – a Cambridge educated historian as well as a seasoned seaplane pilot – has, with the help of other museum professionals, developed a framework concept for 30 exhibits and proposes collaboration with other centers of maritime aviation to develop a truly global showcase for all to participate in. All that is needed for potential investors to come forward is an offer from the government of Malta of a venue. Galea has one or two great ideas in mind for that, too!
Drawing on the experience of Aero Club Como, Galea sees seaplanes as an excellent tourist attraction for Malta. His idea of setting up a seaplane hangar would certainly help turn around the fortunes of the inner harbour town of Marsa, where such a hangar would instantly create a hive of excitement and could even serve as an inclusive venue for community and cultural events. The Malta Seaplanes Association in fact already actively collaborates with the Senglea local council in connection with the Roberts Cup event and it would like to set up a community seaplane club in the Menqa area of Marsa.
Besides restoring the seaplane ramp and greatly improving the physical environment there, a seaplane-inspired regeneration program could help create a special new dynamic, increasing social cohesion and improve economic prospects. Galea says he doesn’t understand the slow reaction of the government, supposedly interested in helping Malta’s South. “Maybe decision makers should see what seaplanes have achieved in Como and Dubai. Perhaps then they might see the light?” Galea told Seaplanemagazine.com
More Benefits Just Under The Surface
Another benefit of bringing back private seaplane aviation to Malta with a dedicated location is that” would- be pilots” could, like in some locations in Canada, the US and Como, complete their initial pilot training in a seaplane, thereby greatly reducing costs for waiting on the ground and in the air when operating training flights out of Malta International Airport.
Maybe MIA itself, together with government, should support this seaplane training initiative, to be based from a hangar within MIA or, better yet, from the Marsa area. “Traffic at MIA would immediately decrease and students could be saving up to 50 Euros per flight” Galea says. All in all, this is a great opportunity for Malta and Maltese leaders and political decision makers, who can achieve something worthwhile by listening to the ideas and acting on the opportunities in the interests of this great country.