BRIEF HISTORY OF LUQA AIRPORT
The origins of Luqa Airport can be traced to the immediate pre – World War 2 military requirements of the British Services. In fact all aviation activity up to about 1939 was concentrated at Kalafrana used by military and civil seaplanes, and Hal Far and Ta Qali aerodromes to the south and centre of Malta respectively used by military and civil landplanes. As seaplanes gradually gave way to landplanes in civil air transport, more use was made at Ta Qali which however was equipped with grass runways and thus liable to be closed in bad weather. Luqa aerodrome was thus designed and brought into operation on 1st April 1940 as an all weather airfield equipped with tarmac runways. Civil operations into Luqa continued up to 1st June 1940.
With the outbreak of World War 2 civil air transport operations ceased and all of Malta’s airfields including Luqa began to be used completely for military purposes. Luqa was mainly used by RAF heavy bomber and reconnaissance aircraft during the war.
At the end of World War 2 civil air transport operations started again at Luqa and the aerodrome was equipped with a small air terminal adjacent to the threshold of the existing runway 24. At this time the main aircraft used for operations were de Havilland Doves, Lancastrians, DC3’s and Vikings. The airport in the mid-fifties was equipped with two major runways of approximately 6000 feet in length and 150 feet wide, the runways’ orientation being in the NE-SW and NW-SE directions. An air terminal was inaugurated in 1958 to the east of runway 14-32, this terminal having been designed five years earlier to cater for the developing civil aviation activity. The fifties saw Luqa Airport being used very frequently as a technical stop over point by aircraft flying from Northern Europe into the Middle East and Southern Africa.
The advent of the long range piston engine aircraft as well as the big jets in the middle sixties practically brought to nil all the technical stops at Luqa. This was however compensated by an increase in terminal traffic as the Malta’s tourist drive started gathering momentum.
In 1966 runway 24-06 was extended to its present length of 7800 feet and though the main requirement for this was undoubtedly military in origin, it enabled the first civil jet transports to land in Malta. This same year saw the introduction of the first instrument landing system in Malta and this equipment was installed on runway 24.
In 1968 it was becoming clear that Luqa airport was not going to be able to meet the requirements of the civil air transport system that was expected to serve the Island’s tourism industry. Therefore the first plans about the development of Luqa Airport for civil purposes began to be drawn up, and work on the realisation of these plans started in 1973. The work involved, consisted of extending runway 14-32 to a length of 11,000 feet and equipping it with a Category 2 instrument landing system. This runway was chosen for development, rather than runway 24-06, because it was the runway in the prevailing wind direction and because difficult terrain made further runway 24-06 extensions impossible.
The runway 14-32, which was in reality completely rebuilt after most of the old runway was demolished, was inaugurated on 1st October 1977 and a National Airline (Air Malta) Boeing 720 was the first aircraft to land on this runway. The new runway was designed for the operations of all civil aircraft expected to be brought into use till the turn of the century. Whereas previously a Boeing 747 aircraft landed in emergency at Luqa in 1973 on the old runway 24-06, the new runway 14-32 saw an ever increasing use made by these large airliners both for pilot training purposes as well as for civil scheduled and unscheduled commercial operations.
The next milestone in Luqa Airport’s history occurred on 1st April 1979 when for the first time the airport became completely civil and operated solely by Maltese personnel. Up to the 31st March 1979 the RAF had retained sole operating responsibility for the airport besides exclusively occupying parts of the airfield for military use. The British Services withdrawal, which was planned as far back as 1972, required a lot of effort and work in the part of the Maltese Government to have sufficient number of trained personnel in the various airport operational services. To the credit of the Department of Civil Aviation, the takeover of operational responsibility for Luqa Airport, the only airport on the Island, was effected smoothly and the transition was hardly noticeable except for the disappearance of the previously very familiar RAF aircraft.
Air traffic at Luqa Airport continued to grow in the eighties and the air terminal quickly became obsolete in terms of facilities available besides being severely limited in passenger handling capacity. A decision was taken in 1988 to carry out one last extension and refurbishment of the air terminal and at the same time plans were drawn up for the building of a new and larger air terminal to handle 1200 passengers per hour, incoming as well as outgoing. The refurbishment of the old terminal was completed in a few months, and the terminal was able to continue operations till 1992, when the new air terminal was inaugurated. The responsibility for the management of the new air terminal was taken up by a government owned company called Malta International Airport.
Major improvements were also undertaken in the improvement of technical and operational facilities on the airfield, such as the installation of a second Category 2 instrument landing system on runway 14, Runway Visual Range Systems, new approach control radar, enhancement of ground lighting equipment, etc.
As from 1st May 1998, Malta International Airport plc. took over the management of the operational facilities at Luqa Airport from the Department of Civil Aviation. As from this date, the role of the Department of Civil Aviation became that of a regulatory body.
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