Thursday 17 January 2019

New book documents Malta-Gozo air link

Pictured above: George Kissaun (right) presents a copy of his book to President Emeritus Edward Fenech Adami

President Emeritus Edward Fenech Adami and the Hon. Anton Tabone, the first Minister for Gozo, addressed the launch of George Kissaun’s book, My Life in Aviation – The Malta-Gozo Airlink, held at Villa Madama, Balzan, recently.

For many people, George Kissaun is synonymous with the International Air Rally of Malta. This year, the Rally celebrated its 43rd year of success. Indeed, both this factor and the fact that he has chaired the Airport Users Committee and the Air Terminal Construct and Design Committee along with his personal aviation experience when in the military, make him uniquely equipped to have a useful mixture of practical and technical experience. He was also a keen model aircraft builder and flyer.

George Kissaun, 74, was born and raised in Sliema and studied at the Lyceum. He first joined the Civil Service but opted for a military career, obtaining his commission 50 years ago – in 1962. After comprehensive military training in Infantry and Gunnery in the UK and serving in the military in Malta, he joined the staff at the Palace in Valletta as ADC to Sir Maurice Dorman, then Governor of Malta. He stayed in that position while the role evolved, with the first two Presidents of Malta, Sir Anthony Mamo and Dr Anton Buttigieg.

After leaving the Army in 1979 he re-joined the Civil Service, occupying several managerial posts in the National Tourism Organisation of Malta, among others. He has also been a local councillor in Msida from 2000 to 2008. His concluding involvement in aviation was as a delegate on the Single European Sky mandate, which he attended regularly between 1999 and 2008.

Gozo is very close to Kissaun’s heart. He is a regular visitor and his aviation experience has enabled him to combine the two in a unique manner. He refers to this first book as an initial stab at the non-military aviation history ofMaltaand Gozo in which he was personally involved.

The first reference to the possibility of transporting tourists to Gozo fromMaltais recorded as the late Sixties. A project to build an airport 1.6 km southeast of Xewkija was then approved by both the Gozo Civic Council and the Public Works Department.

Fast forward to the 1980s and outline plans came to his attention. Soon after the 1987 elections, Kissaun was approached by Mr Tabone, who asked him about the feasibility of a Malta-Gozo airlink.

Right from the start, he differentiated between a link using fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters, and he listed three very important factors: a landing strip or helicopter pad; usage requirements for the facility for arrivals and departures; and the need for financial backers, private or public.

Kissaun, having committed to the opinion that an airlink was feasible, was invited to be the Vice-Chairman of the Malta Gozo Airlink Committee, which was chaired by then Minister Tabone. The other members were Joe Galea from the Finance Ministry, Joe Sultana from the Department of Civil Aviation, Gozo Channel Chairman Franco Masini, and Franz Camilleri of AirMalta.

The book charts the process to evaluate the various options, the fact that a fixed-wing project was 40 per cent cheaper to operate and the international parallels, particularly inGermany, to assess the economic feasibility of the project.

Kissaun is at pains to point out, right from the beginning, that there is a difference between an airstrip and an airfield, that the amount of land to be occupied for the type of operations of aircraft was limited and that what was being proposed was a landing strip that at most would take aircraft with short take off and landing capabilities.

A milestone is reached with the commencement of the helicopter service, operated by Air Malta, in 1990. Kissaun then devotes a large part of the book to recording how these events were reported in the local print media, which must have involved a great deal of painstaking research. A chapter is devoted to the Airstrip Saga and the proposal for the Gozo airstrip to be used by the Armed Forces of Malta for emergency operations, and search and rescue.

Next comes the development of the Gozo Heliport at Ta’ Lambert, in the limits of Xewkija. With the entry ofMaltainto the European Union in 2004, the helicopter service was discontinued by Malta Air Charter since the Mil Mi-8 helicopters used did not comply with EU regulations.

Kissaun then covers the other attempts to start a helicopter service, along with the media coverage and correspondence on the subject. He devotes a chapter to the Denied-Boarding Saga and then has two chapters on the operation of a fixed-wing aircraft and the fixed-wing aspect.

His concluding chapter is titled: All it needs is political will. Certainly technology has moved ahead in the past 25 years and aircraft have fewer requirements and have greater safety built in.

President Emeritus Fenech Adami, who was Prime Minister when the Malta-Gozo air link first started, gave his recollections on the transport situation between the two islands. Mr Tabone spoke of the major developments that contributed to making the link a reality, paying tribute to Kissaun for his contribution. The author paid tribute to all those involved in making the book a reality. A lively debate followed, with participation from the floor.


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