Armed Forces of Malta
By Johan Mulder
Malta operates a small air squadron for search and rescue. Based at Luqa International Airport, the unit is, since july 1992, officially called the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) No.2 Regiment – Air Squadron. Main roles are Army support, anti-smuggling patrols, communications and SAR.
Perhaps one of Britain’s most important colonies, especially in times of war, Malta was granted Independence on 21 September 1964. After a Labour administration (1971-1987) was elected, steps were taken to set up a small helicopter flight and four surplus Bell 47G-2s were to be donated by the former West-Germany. The next addition to the Flight was a donation from Libya, an ex Libyan military AB206A, followed by two former Libyan Police Alouette 3 helicopters and a former Air Force one. The three helicopters were overhauled in France and were fully operational in 1993. Although single-engined, and with a shorter duration than the AB.212s, the three Alouettes are equipped with a rescue hoist, cargo hook, stretcher kit and emergency flotation gear for over-the-water operations. For the first time in its twenty-year history, the Air Squadron was at last endowed with true SAR capability, which greatly reduced the complete dependability it had on the Italian Military Mission.
The expulsion of the Libyan Mission in 1980, made links with Italy growing stronger, with Italy pledging to recognise Malta’s neutrality, and offering a greater level of assistance. It was in 1991 that the AFM took the first steps towards acquiring fixed-wing aircraft by accepting an offer from the United States Government to buy, for what has been described as a "nominal price", five Cessna 0-lE Bird Dogs. Later in 1992, further acquisitions were made with two ex-Guardia di Finance Nardi-Hughes 369. The two Hughes were the first to be painted in the Air Squadron livery of white, green and Day-Glo. No further new equipment was received, until the much-heralded BN Islander, 9H-ACU, arrived in 1995. A second Islander was delivered in 1998. In 1996, two ex-Dutch Air Force Alouettes, 9H-ADA and 9H-ADB were purchased.
Following the retirement of the Bird Dogs, the Air Squadron was in need of a “new” training aircraft, and the choice fell on four ex-Royal AF Bulldogs, which arrived on 19 February 2000, registered consecutively from 9H-ADQ to 9H-ADT. A fifth Bulldog was added to the fleet in July, 2001. When the Squadron desires to fly an aircraft abroad, flying on a military mission while carrying civil registrations imposes limitations as there is a need to observe certain diplomatic procedures.
Thus, a new military numbering system came into effect, and on 1 May 2000, all registrations of all types were cancelled from the Maltese Civil Register. The new system consists of the letters AS (for Air Squadron) and four numbers. The first two indicate the year when the aircraft was purchased, the last two the order in which the aircraft joined the Air Squadron. Recent addiation to the Armed Forces of Malta is the acquisition of two Beech B200 maritime patrol aircraft.