The 2021 Malta International Airshow returned after a three-year absence due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was eagerly awaited by the local and foreign aircraft enthusiasts’ community and the public. The airshow was once again organised by the young members of the Malta Aviation Society led by veteran enthusiast and President, Joe Ciliberti.
Though the actual airshow was on the 25th and 26th of September, arrivals started as early as the 23rd and the last departures left on the 28th of September, thus a six-day bonanza for aircraft enthusiasts.
This airshow brought about new challenges to the organisers. The static display apron is now much smaller than what it was the last time round in 2017, as new Aircraft Maintenance Hangars for SR Technics have been built alongside those of Lufthansa on what used to be Park 4. This meant fewer aircraft could be accommodated on static display there, whilst all the flying display aircraft were parked on Apron 3 and at Safi Aviation Park.
The flying display was once again held far from the airfield, this time towards the north of the Island, along the St Paul’s Bay / Qawra coastline and was watched by thousands of spectators who thronged the coast. Unfortunately, the aftermath traffic chaos, not the fault of the organisers, again questions the authorities shifting of the flying displays away from the airport.
The COVID-19 pandemic restrictions meant that tickets for the static display were to be sold online and not at the gate and these were limited as were also the opening hours, thus reducing the amount of people visiting. Change in pandemic restrictions by the authorities, during the last few days before the start of the airshow, meant many could not attend the static display. Visitors to the static display had to produce their COVID-19 Certificate and have their temperature checked prior to entry in groups so as not to have many people visiting at one go.
The highlight of the airshow was undoubtedly the participation of the Turkey Air Force Solo Turk and the France Air Force Rafale C with impeccable displays on both days. The French Air Force Dassault Rafale C solo display left the crowd in awe, where Captain Jerome brought out the best of this exceptional aircraft.
As expected, participation was limited, taking into consideration the short time available to organise the airshow due to reasons explained above coupled with aircraft withdrawing at the last moment and the technical grounding of 3 other aircraft upon arrival.
The static display was dominated by aircraft from the various Italy Military, Navy, Police, Finance and Fire sections, some of which with practically brand-new helicopters. The Royal Danish Air force participated with their Canadair CL601 Challenger, which incidentally had been flown until recently by a now retired Maltese Pilot, Stephen Galea. The Polish Navy participated with their customary PZL-M-28M1R Bryza aircraft.
The airshow was also the last for two types of aircraft, the C-130 of the Belgium Air Force (withdrawn at the end of 2021) and the Transall 160 of the Germany Air Force (which has since been stored and will be used as a training classroom). Both aircraft wore special colours, the Belgium C130 had the “50 years in Belgian Service” livery, whilst the German Transall had the special “Goodbye Tour” livery.
The RAF Red Arrows participation is always eagerly welcomed by the Maltese public, and this year was no exception, even though this came very late in the day.
A welcome comeback to the Airshow was the static participation of the two Local Flying Schools – Malta School of Flying who displayed their newest Twin Engine Tecnam P2006T Mk II together with another 2 aircraft and the European Pilots Academy with four aircraft. The interest by the public was evident as Parents together with their children were observed discussing the training programs both schools offer. The Malta Aviation Museum also participated with two static aircraft, the De Havilland DH-82A Tiger Moth and the Piper J-3L-65 Cub. The Hal-Far Model Flying Association participated and displayed various remote controlled aircraft and helicopters.
Apart from the participating aircraft, the enthusiasts had the opportunity to view the Supporting aircraft which brought the support crews, necessary equipment and replenishments required for their participation. These included two Turkey Air Force A400M, and one Belgium Air Force A400 and France Air Force A400M, one Belgium Air Force Lockheed Hercules C-130H, one Switzerland Air Force Challenger 604, and one France Air Force Airbus A310.
Joe Ciliberti, Malta Aviation Society President gave me a comment regarding the 2021 Malta International Airshow.
“The 2021 Malta International Airshow now joins the previous 25 editions to the history books. It has been a challenging event to organise and not just because of the 3-year gap from the previous show. The main three challenges were the new static display ramp which was only cleared from all the construction equipment just 24hrs prior to the arrival of the first airshow participant. The second one was the foreign operator of Malta’s only airport being less than helpful at times, and the third was obviously the pandemic. All in all, things turned out fine and the public showed how much it missed the airshow as evidenced by the thousands who watched the aerial spectacle on show weekend.”