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Malta Air Squadron

Malta Air SquadronThe Air Squadron forms part of 2 Regiment and is based at Malta International Airport. It has a total complement of around 90 personnel. Aircraft maintenance and repair is handled at the base itself by the squadrons technicians and engineers. The Helicopter Flight was established in May 1972 at St Patricks Barracks, following the transfer of three AB47 G2 and one Bell 47 G2 two-seat helicopters to Malta by the Federal Republic of Germany. The Air Squadron has seen considerable improvement, having two Islander twin engined aircraft for medium-range patrol along with its small Bulldog planes, Alouette helicopters and Agusta-Bell 212 helicopters deployed by the Italian Military Mission. The squadron has two BN-2B Islander twin-engined fixed wing aircraft for medium range patrol, five Bulldog single-engined aircraft and a flight of helicopters consisting of five SA316B Alouette 3s, two AB 47 G2s and two Nardi Hughes 500s, the last being in care and preservation.

The Air Squadron of the AFM tookn delivery of its second Pilatus Britten Norman BN-2B-26 Islander in September 1998. The AFM acquired its first Islander on the 5th December 1995. The AFM owned aircraft, bearing its Maltese Registration marks 9H-ADF, has been flown to Malta from the UK by AFM Pilots: Lt. Mark Said and Lt. George Abela. They were accompanied by Capt. Alex Dalli, the Air Squadron's Commander and Lt. Thomas Briffa as Chief Engineer. The Maltese crew took off from the UK base on the morning of Thursday the 24th September and is expected to land at the Air Squadron Base late at night on Friday 25th.

The Islander is a 10-seater fixed wing aircraft and its versatility has attracted a number of customers worldwide. It has an economic cruising speed of 150 miles per hour at 12,000 feet. It can fly up to 870 miles non-stop at cruising speed with a full payload of 1,300 Kgs. In the past years, the Air Squadron has made full use of this aircraft's flying capabilities. It has been successfully used in Search and rescue operations and Maritime Surveillance. Furthermore, it has also been used occasionally to transport military delegations to overseas destinations. The arrival of a second aircraft will give the Air Squadron a significant boost to its operational capabilities. This aircraft was purchased from the makers Britten Norman of the UK. It performed its first flight in 1987 bearing registration number G-LIPP.

In 2000 the Armed Forces of Malta purchased four ex-PAF Bulldogs training aircraft from the UK's Ministry of Defence Disposal Sales Agency. The planes arrived in Malta and landed safely at the Air Squadron site at Luqa Airport 20 February 2000.

On 2 May 2000 the aircraft of the Armed Forces of Malta Air Squadron started bearing military registrations, replacing their civilian registration.

In 2004, the Armed Forces of Malta (AFM) identified an urgent requirement for modern helicopters capable of Counter-Terrorism. Currently, they are flying three 1970's vintage French-built aircraft that are heavily tasked, primarily in search and rescue and Counter-Trafficking operations. These aircraft are also used for civilian MEDEVAC and other typically civilian and police related missions, as they are the only government helicopter unit in the Maltese Islands. The current aircraft are restricted in operational range and mission capability because they are single engine, lack necessary equipment, and the airframes are very old. These problems limit their overwater flight operations to daylight hours only.

Before the introduction of Armed Serviceman's Protection Act (ASPA) in 2004, post's security assistance program was working to replace this aging fleet using grant FMF funding. While researching this project, a U.S. company dealing in second hand-helicopters was contacted that said it was willing to provide three used aircraft for $6.5 million. These helicopters, while not brand new, would have been fully refurbished and capable of meeting Maltese mission requirements.

At the time that ASPA in was going into effect, Malta -- as a new accession country to full European Union membership -- was unable to conclude an Article 98 agreement with the U.S. This resulted in the suspension of the Maltese FMF program. In the Summer of 2004, a Senate Congressional Delegation visited Malta and was convinced by the then Ambassador and the Maltese Chief of Defense of the need and merit of assisting the AFM to buy more capable helicopters to secure their borders from a variety of threats. A promise was made that the $6.5M would be provided to make this possible. In response, an earmark for $3.0M was placed in the FY05 Foreign Operations Budget with a promise of a further $3.5M in the FY06 budget; however, due to changing priorities, no further money for this project was allocated by Congress in subsequent budgets.

Once the Armed Forces of Malta began to assess its operational needs and to determine the specific requirements for the aircraft, they determined that the purchase of used aircraft with limited lifespans would not serve their best interests, nor would it be a wise use of the funding that the U.S. was donating for the purchase. A review of all the currently available aircraft capable of meeting the AFM's capabilities and requirements resulted in their selection of the EC-145, known as the UH-72A in the U.S. military, as the one best suited to their needs. At the same time, an Agreement was negotiated between U.S. and the GoM on how the $2.976M was to be expended. It was agreed that the money would be "transferred" to the GoM, to be expended on a helicopter to meet the intent of Congress.

The AFM decided to purchase a UH-72A from the U.S. Army via an FMS case. The initial price for the aircraft came in at $10.6M for a single aircraft with a full package of spares, technical support, training and support equipment. The GoM committed itself to funding the rest of aircraft on its own; however, it found difficulty in actually doing so. In an effort to reduce the overall cost and with the permission of the U.S. Army program office for this program, the GoM approached the German Government, (EADS-North America is the builder of the UH-72A) with a request for help. The German Government by its own laws cannot support the purchase with funding, but asked EADS to provide the technical support and training at very advantageous rates which it has agreed to do. However, this had no real impact on the overall cost of the FMS case, and the GoM continued to find itself in difficulty trying to fund the aircraft.

The provision of these aircraft to the AFM had a long-lasting impact on U.S.-Maltese relations. It allowed the AFM to be more effective in applying the military-to-military training that the U.S. has provided in the past. In particular, it allowed them to provide better coverage within their assigned search and rescue region. This directly translated to the ability to more effectively identify and interdict sea borne traffic involved in Counter-Trafficking as well as Counter-Terror and Counter-Proliferation operations and help Malta to address its number one security issue - Illegal Migration.



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