You are on page 1of 5

AIRMALTA LTD.

(1947-1951)

Capt. Robin J. Zammit

For most of us today, Air Malta is that airline that flies those great big red and white jets that constantly fly over our rooftops each day. Most of us also correctly assume that the company was set up by an Act of Parliament on 31 March 1973. Few know however, that another Air Malta dates back to 1947, and that both companies are connected, through common shareholding, that has been consistent for over 50 years. In fact, todays Air Malta Co. Ltd. and the original Air Malta Ltd. are two different companies which although separated by so many years, also share many pioneering aims and ideas. Early Maltese civil aviation Following the end of hostilities at the end of World War II, the allies found themselves with an abundance of personnel and equipment, including aircraft. Several entrepreneuring ex-servicemen took advantage of the situation and rounded-up many surplus military transport planes and bombers at scrap value and founded hundreds of micro passenger and cargo airlines all over the world. Airlines sprung up by the dozen in UK, operating out of the many airfields built during the War.. Many of the British Empires colonies also founded their national airlines, including Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Hong Kong, East Africa etc., all of which were set up in the years 1945-47. In those days, Malta was a major stepping stone for Britains air services to East and South Africa, Middle East and the Indian Sub-Continent and Australia. Thus air-services to and from London were excellent and in early 1946 BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) was operating between 30 to 40 flights a week though Luqa, on transit or nightstop, Mr. George Zarb, a BOAC and later Malta Airways official said in a BBC broadcast in March 1946. Other airlines operating through Luqa in those days included: Norwegian Airlines, A.V. Air Transport, Air Taxi Ltd., Southampton Air Services (Eastleigh), Air Work Ltd. (Blackbushe), Blue Line Airways (Tollerton), British Air Transport (Redhill), , Charter Air Ltd. (Thame), Scottish Airlines (Prestwick), Silver City Airways (Blackbushe), Skyways Ltd. (Dunsfold), Steiners Air & Travel Services (Liverpool) and Trent Valley Aviation (Tollerton), amongst several others. First Maltese Charters As aircraft got larger and larger, and more powerful engines introduced, technical stops in Malta naturally started to decline. BOAC started to use Castel Benito in Libya as a staging post for their longhaul four-engined aircraft, as Luqas runways, by the late 40s, had become too short for these heavy aircraft. By July 1946, a Maltese company, Cassar & Cooper started to charter aircraft from private British companies, mainly to destinations within the UK, but at the same time organized charters for Maltese to Tunis, Tripoli, Rome and Catania. Up and until this date, the only way to leave Malta was to be put on a Government Priority list, on which one had to wait his turn for an available seat on one of the several aircraft staging through Luqa. A route structure was in the making.

In September 1946, Cassar & Cooper set up a company called B.A.S. (Malta) Ltd., a local branch for British Aviation Services, an independent aviation company specializing in ground handling of aircraft and the supply of aircraft and aircrew. The object of B.A.S. (Malta) Ltd. was to open a servicing and

handling station at Luqa and to operate aircraft in conjunction with Charter Air Ltd. These operations were marketed with heavy advertising under the title Fast Air Mediterranean Services Ltd. Concurrently, another Maltese company, W.J. Parnis England Co. Ltd., reached agreement with The Instone Airline (founders of Imperial Airways), to form a local subsidiary called The Instone Airlines 1946 Ltd., whose objective was the transport of passengers and freight between Malta, Italy, France, and UK. Instone 1946 proceeded to operate Airspeed Consuls, on lease from Charter Air, which were based on the island, the first of which arrived on 13 February 1947. It was their intention to base 11 aircraft of the type on the island. In April 1947, the Directors of B.A.S. (Malta), Instone 1946 and Charter Air met in Malta and after three weeks of intensive discussions, agreed to merge the Malta companies. The new semi-scheduled airline that emerged was christened Maltair Merger. Since Maltair was still awaiting its Air Service License, the government allowed operations to proceed in a scheduled manner until the License was issued. Operations commenced on 1 May 1947 and the airline served Tripoli, Tunis, Catania, Palermo, Naples and Rome, each served with a frequency of two flights per week. An advertised weekly service to London was offered, with stops in Marseille, Lyons and Paris. However, this never got off the ground (sic!), as the Malta Self-Government did not approve, as it wanted to protect British interests on the lucrative route. Maltair was destined to remain a feeder service. On 6 May 1946, another local Aviation Company was formed, Malta Airways, headed by Col. Roger Strickland, which tried to operate the London route in conjunction with BOAC, but negotiations fell through. Later, on November 12, 1948, BEA(British European Airlines) acquired 34% of Malta Airways equity capital of GBP 600,000, and in 1950, Malta Airways reached agreement with BEA to start operations to London via Nice and several daily flights to Rome, using BEA aircraft, but using its own Air Service License. The London route continued to operate until 1974, when todays Air Malta was set up. The remnants of Malta Airways are still around today, in the form of a Travel Agency called Maltravel. Air Malta Shortly after the inception of Maltair, in mid-1947 (probably July), it was decided to re-name the airline. This was the birth of Air Malta, a name that is today very familiar with all of us. It was given rights by the Government to carry H.M. Mail and airfreight, which assured the fledgling company a guaranteed amount of income, especially since it was forced to stop its previously booming charters to the UK. The airline started operations using one 6-seater Air Speed Consul. By 6 July 1947, its fleet consisted of four Consuls, as well as the newly delivered De Havilland Dove. The Dove entered service with Air Malta only briefly, its proper introduction into service being postponed later to June 1949. The brandnew 10-12 seat Cunliffe-Owen Concordia was ordered by the company in 1947, but after the prototype was flown in England, the manufacturer withdrew the project due to lack of orders. On 16 December 1949, Air Malta took delivery of the first of three 39 seat DC-3 Dakotas. Air Malta was eventually granted its much coveted Air Service License on 14 May 1948, allowing the airline to operate to North Africa, Sicily and Rome on full scheduled service. The license was officially handed to the airline on 12 November 1948. This enabled Air Malta to claim a place in history, becoming the first private company in post-war British civil-aviation, not associated with one of the UK nationalized airlines, to be given such a license. The UK was involved because at that time, Malta had no arrangements for registering aircraft locally, so all retained their British registrations, and came under the UK Air Navigation Order. By February 1948 the company employed 50 personnel and carried more than 2000 passengers. By November 1948 it had carried 10,000 passengers, flown 4000 hours, covering 520,000 miles, carried 54,000 Kg of freight and 5000Kg of mail.

Air Malta was innovative then as it is today, trying in 1947, to set up a flying school to train Maltese pilots and aircraft mechanics, but plans had to be shelved when it encountered problems of recognition with the Government , mainly regarding the London route. Also, on 26 November 1947, Capt. A. Cassar, a Director of Air Malta, announced in a letter in The Times of Malta, that the company was proposing to open a 15 minute helicopter service between Malta and Gozo, once a suitable machine is found This idea coming only months after helicopters first made it to the air, and before a helicopter had even landed on our island. In fact the first helicopter ever to land here came 9 days later, when it flew to shore off the USS Midway which was anchored in Marsaxlokk. Flown by Lt. James Lamm, USN, it further distinguished itself that day by rescuing a pilot of a USN Skyraider, which ditched off Malta. The plans Capt. Cassar had for Air Malta were definitely ones with vision and pioneering disposition, even though, mainly through lack of support from our self-government, they never made it through fruition. In fact Mr. Lino Bonello, who started as a ticketing clerk with Air Malta in 1947, often remembers the late Capt. Cassar telling him Lino, Im interested in anything that flies! In the meantime, Air Malta continued to progress and expand, and opened further routes to Gibraltar via Tangiers, Lisbon via Algiers, and to Lydda in Israel, but none had much success. A richer pasture was found when flights to Cairo were resumed with Dove equipment in June 1949, via Benghazi, and Tobruk/El Adem, this route having been suspended some time after it was initially started in November 1948 with the Consuls. Long-Haul Air Malta even attempted the Long-Haul market. On 7 March 1950, the airline was given permission by the Bermuda Board of Civil Aviation to operate up to 12 non-schedule flights per month with onward connections with other airlines to New York, Detroit and Chicago, all places with large Maltese communities. This was a probably a sly attempt to get around bureaucracy, and fly to America, a place that was solely BOACs domain, as per US/UK bilateral agreements. The company leased an Indian registered DC-4, and flights started in Summer 1950. Fares cost GBP79.12s, and were intended to be used by emigrants returning to Malta on holiday as well as a stepping stone to Rome, a niche market with pilgrims. Only four flights were operated in the end, and the service was discontinued with the aircraft being returned to the lessor on 28 October 1950. It is curious to note, that air-fares in those days must have been incredibly expensive. Advertised specialoffer return flights to London cost GBP 35 in 1946. Considering that an average workmans salary in those days was just between GBP2 to GBP3 a week, flying was definitely only for the rich. No small wonder therefore, that very few Maltese have the privilege to count them selves as having been one of Air Maltas passengers. B.A.S. (Malta) also branched overseas and opened a ground handling agency in Rome Ciampino, then Romes main gateway, to service British aircraft. A few years later, the service was taken over by the Italian Government and nationalized, since it was operated by foreigners. The idea of using Malta as a hub stems back to this era, when, in 1947, Air Malta, Alitalia and BEA signed agreements to feed passengers to Malta, from where, Air Malta would then transfer the passengers to North Africa and elsewhere on their subsidiary lines.

Air Malta also took to the dedicated cargo business. In October 1950 the airline opened a cargo route to North Africa using a Bristol 170 Freighter, capable of carrying 3 tons of cargo or livestock. The aircraft was utilized between Malta and Cairo, with stops in Tripoli, Benghazi and Tobruk. The Bristol Freighter was advertised as being capable of flying in four different versions: all cargo, two cars and ten passengers, one car and 24 passengers or 45 passengers. The End of Air Malta

Air Malta Ltd. came to an abrupt end in December 1950, when the British Majority share-holders delivered their coup de grace, and sold off Air Maltas Air Service License, the companys most important asset, without consultation or the acquiescence of the Malta (minority) share-holders to Malta Airlines, a bitter Capt. A. Cassar retained in an interview in 1974. The license was sold to Malta Airways, Air Maltas competitor and staunch rival for several years. Malta Airways, backed by BEA came to a fragile agreement with Air Malta on 2 December 1950, and agreed to operate joint services until the end of the year. This agreement was not renewed and Air Malta was absorbed by its competitor on 8 January 1951, only four years after its inception. The local share-holders went on to setup Malta Aviation Services (MAS), an aircraft ground handling company, which flourished right until 1975, when todays Air Malta was set up and the Maltese Government of the new Republic offered MAS shares in Air Malta, in exchange for all the companys equipment and workforce. Thus one can trace a constant link between both Air Maltas, possibly giving the company the right to claim Established 1947. It is fitting to close on a quote from the Editorial of the Times of Malta of the 27 November 1950. The disappearance of Air Malta as an operational body will be keenly regretted on the grounds that this company was the first to introduce Malta to civil aviation after the war, although (the majority of) the shares of the company were held by non-Maltese. The departure or absorption of the pioneer always occasions regret and in this connection it would be appropriate to give thanks and pay tribute to Air Malta for their past work and excellent operational record. Note: Photographs of Air Malta Ltd. are available as postcards in a special edition postcard-pack that the Malta Aviation Museum has printed in its fund raising efforts to erect a large ex-RAF hangar at its present location in Ta Qali. AIR MALTA FLEET LIST. Airspeed Consul Registration G-AHRK (s/n) (3096) Owner/Lessor and notes

British Aviation Services. In service by 2.47. In 11.48, carried BAS (Malta) colours and logo. G-AIBF (3422) B.A.S/Silver City Airways. In service by 12.7.47. Current 4.10.48. G-AIKO(4339) Charterair Ltd. In service 7.4.48. Current till 12.50 G-AIKS (4340) Bowmaker Ltd. Current 7.2.50 but possibly in service by 1.48. G-AIKX (4354) Charterair Ltd. Current 4.10.48. G-AIKZ (4325) Charterair Ltd. Current 4.10.48. G-AIOM (4347) Charterair Ltd. in service by 25.2.47. In Instone colours 10.10.47 and in B.A.S. colours on 1.11.47. Destroyed Macontel, France 24.1.48. G-AIUR (967) Charterair Ltd In service by 3.47, leased to UN as UN 49 in 1948 and Current in 11.48. W.f.u in 2.49 G-AJLL (5130) Charterair Ltd. Current 23.3.48. Damaged Catania 8.5.48. Current in 11.48. W.f.u in 2.49 DeHavilland DH104 Dove G-AIWF seen spells G-AKJP (04023) B.A.S/S.C.A. In regular use from at least 11.6.49, but had of service with Air Malta as early as 6.7.47. Crash landed at El Adem 11.11.49. S.C.A. In use from 6.49. Named City of Valletta

(04023)

Douglas DC-3s G-AJAY G-AIJD G-AGNG (13375) (9049) (15552/26997) leased from Westminster Airways Ltd. 16.12.49 till 4.50. Air Malta titles leased from Ciros Aviation Ltd. 4.50 till 6.50 leased from Eagle Aviation Ltd. 6.50 till 12.50

Bristol 170/21 Freighter G-AIFV Douglas DC-4 Identity of the DC-4 aircraft used on long-haul flights are unconfirmed, but are thought to be one of either: VT-CZT (10419) Bharat Airways VT-CZW (10353) Bharat Airways VT-DAW (27234) Indian Overseas Airlines. Bibliography The Times of Malta 1946-1951 The Sunday Times of Malta 1946-51, 1974,1995 The Aeroplane, 1947 European Aviation Annual, AAE, 1986 Aircraft and the Air, Dumpy The International Encyclopedia of Aviation, Hamlyn Janes Encyclopedia of Aviation, Studio Editions Air Britain Digest, Int. Association of Aviation Historians With thanks to Mr. William L. Harding Joint Managing Director and Mr. Lino Bonello, Director, Cassar and Cooper Ltd.: Mr John Visanich and special thanks to Mr John Havers. (12781) Bristol Aeroplane Company, leased to S.C.A and sub-leased to Air Malta. Arrived 30.10.50 till the companys demise.