Harbour Air Scenic Flight HES6064

by - 01:05

Photobucket

Date: Tuesday, 21 Jun 11
Aircraft: 9H-AFA de Havilland Canada DHC-3T Vazar Turbine Otter
Seat: 1A Photos featured in this trip report are also taken from seats 1B, 2A and 5C

Scheduled Departure Time: 1500 LT
Boarding Time: 1450 LT
Taxi Out: 1500 LT
Takeoff: 1502 LT from Valletta Grand Harbour heading NE

Scheduled Arrival Time: 1530 LT
Touchdown: 1530 LT at Valletta Grand Harbour from heading NE
Actual Arrival Time: 1532 LT
Arrival Stand: NA

The golden opportunity to fly on a seaplane flight ranked highly as one of the main highlights of our five day long stay in the sunny Mediterranean island of Malta. Although Singapore and the surrounding region is surrounded by plenty of water, it is uncommon to find floatplane operations in South East Asia with the exception of isolated operations in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Harbour Air Malta is the brainchild of two enterprising Maltese entrepreneurs, Alfred Manduca and Winston Azzopardi, who had partnered with Harbour Air of Canada to launch the airline in mid-July 2007. The airline operates a single de Havilland Canada DHC-3T which was leased from its parent company on three daily rotations to Mgarr in neighbouring Gozo and three 30 minute long sightseeing flights from its base in Valletta during the peak summer season from May to August. The airline also charges a flat fare of 50 Euros for a one way hop between Valletta and Mgarr, and 95 Euros for the scenic flight. Due to time and budget constraints, we decided to settle for the shorter flight from Mgarr to Valletta to experience this unique form of transport.

Booking

Harbour Air maintains an informative and relatively user-friendly website which lists the schedule and fares for their flights - www.harbourairmalta.com. We had decided to book our flights through Exploremalta.com, but subsequent correspondence between us and the airline through e-mail had bounced back repeatedly. However, the sales and marketing manager Ms Lara Vassallo decided to place a call to us to rectify the situation and we were soon issued with an e-mail confirmation for our flight. It was surprising that no down payment was necessary and we simply had to pay upon check-in. This had saved us another hassle as online credit card payments to Italian and Maltese companies are usually blocked by the issuing banks as a measure to prevent international laundering of funds.

An Unexpected Surprise

The original plan was for us to take the Harbour Air late afternoon service from Mgarr in Gozo back to the Valletta waterfront on our fourth day in Malta. However, we had received a call in the morning on our second day and was informed that our flight had been cancelled as there was a need to perform maintenance on their sole floatplane. We were instead offered a scenic flight on Tuesday afternoon at the same fare of 50 Euros. It was needless to say an irresistible offer!

The map below shows the route taken by the aircraft on our scenic flight. It usually follows a 'figure of 8' route looping around Gozo in an anticlockwise loop, but our flight had followed a clockwise route which brings us towards the south of Malta first before heading towards Gozo. Malta map outline courtesy of Malta Tourism Authority

Photobucket

Checking In

Harbour Air Malta's flights depart from the Valletta Sea Terminal at Floriana, and the sea terminal is unfortunately not very accessible from the main town centre due to the elevation that the capital city is built on. In addition, it was a last minute arrangement and we decided to sacrifice our aircraft spotting plan at Malta Luqa airport for another day. Owing to the time constraint (and balking at having to climb up a steep road to catch the bus back to Valletta from the Blue Grotto), we took a taxi directly to the terminal after having a leisurely lunch at the Blue Grottos and arrived 45 minutes before the scheduled departure time.

Photobucket

The small but functional departure hall was deserted, and we decided to attempt to purchase bottles of the national soft drink, Kinnie from the vending machines. Maltese vending machines still continue to puzzle us to this date as they seem deceptively harmless but were downright frustrating to operate for unknown reasons.
Photobucket

The check-in desk was manned by the affable Ms Vassallo whom we had conversed with over the phone thirty minutes before the scheduled departure time of each flight. Each passengers is allowed to carry up to 10kg of baggage and one cabin baggage. With a maximum capacity of 14 passengers, there were virtually no queue and we were given our boarding passes and receipt for our payment.
Photobucket

Passengers were regrettably unable to retain the laminated boarding passes as souvenirs as they were collected back before boarding to serve as a headcount check. In addition, passengers were also free to seat wherever they wish but due to Ms Vassallo's persistent marketing efforts to promote the service, there is seldom a spare seat onboard each flight!
Photobucket

Boarding commenced ten minutes before the scheduled departure time and passengers were led through a side door in the terminal building to the pier side where the floatplane was docked at. There were also no security inspections apart from a dangerous goods declaration during check-in.
Photobucket

The terminal handles both Harbour Air Malta's flights and the numerous mega cruise ships that dock by the wharf in summer. Azamara Quest was photographed waiting for her load of day-trippers to return as we walked to the floating pontoon to board our floatplane.
Photobucket

The Flight

Harbour Air Malta operates a single de Havilland Canada DHC-3T Vazar Turbine Otter which was converted by Vazar Aerospace from the standard 600hp Pratt & Whitney P-1340 radial engine to a more powerful and reliable 750shp Pratt & Whitney PT6A-135A turbine. The choice of aircraft was partly influenced by the need for a rugged airframe to withstand the swells and high winds of the Mediterranean when operating in unsheltered waters at Mgarr in Gozo. Moreover, a Cessna Grand Caravan also required longer take-off distances and could carry less payload with a longer turn-around time due to it being able to only refuel over the wing through gravity. 9H-AFA was photographed shortly before boarding resplendent in the airline's revised livery for the 2011 summer season.
Photobucket

Harbour Air Malta's operations have to comply with both Malta's Maritime Authority and the Civil Aviation Branch as the floatplane operates alongside large cruise ships, pleasure boats and intimidating destroyers in the Grand Harbour. A extensive campaign was undertaken to educate officials on how floatplane operations can co-exist peacefully and safely alongside the busy maritime traffic. In addition, the aircraft also undergoes daily compressor washes as a preventive measure against the corrosive operating environment.
Photobucket

A specialised stand had been built to allow passengers to climb into the cramped cabin safely and passengers were also relieved of their bags and cabin luggage which were stowed behind a safety net at the rear of the aircraft. This is because the cabin has no provisions for stowing luggage above or under the seat.

The cabin is arranged in a 2+1 seating configuration with mid backed leather bench seats to improve visibility for the passengers.
Photobucket

Cabin interior from the rear. Each seat pocket contained a plain airsickness bag and a safety card. Passengers were also able to sneak a peek at the cockpit as it is a regulatory requirement that cockpit doors could not be installed in order to provide access in the unlikely event of an emergency.
\Photobucket

Large bubble windows allow passengers to have an expansive view of the Malta archipelago beneath them during the flight. The seats can also be folded away to carry up to 750lbs of freight.
Photobucket

The safety card is also detailed and well illustrated to show the four different means of egress from the aircraft.
Photobucket

After the passengers had settled in their seats, the pilot introduced himself as CPT Stéphane from Canada and that the tour would be conducted at an altitude of approximately 1500ft over a period of 30mins. He proceeded on with a short safety briefing and wished us a pleasant and smooth flight.

The single Pratt & Whitney PT6A turbine engine spooled up as the pilot completed his pre-takeoff checklist and the ground handling assistant disconnected the moorings between the aircraft and the pontoon. Harbour Air Malta is a small operation and consists of a total strength of only 6 employees. The ground handling assistant was spotted posing for the numerous cameras which were clicking away in the cabin as the aircraft started to half taxi and half float away from the pier.
Photobucket

After steering clear of the cruise ship, the throttles were opened and the loud throaty roar of the engine enveloped the cabin with the aircraft gently lifting into the air after a short take-off roll (video below shows the take-off and landing of the flight).


The Lower Barrakka Gardens situated on the south-eastern flank of the capital city of Valletta were immediately visible right after rotation. A little Doric temple at this site commemorated Sir Alexander Ball who had taken Malta from the French in 1800.
Photobucket

The aircraft settled into a shallow climb towards the intended cruising altitude and made a left turn as we rounded the tip of the Valletta and continued west to the neighbouring seaside suburb of Sliema. The historic Tigne Fort which was built by the Knights of St John in 1792 can be seen amidst massive residential development works on the promontory.
Photobucket

Continuing on the wide left turn, passengers who were seated on the left were afforded an expansive view of the Sliema region and Manoel Island that sits in the middle of the sheltered Marsamxsett Harbour.
Photobucket

The monumental walled city of Mdina and the town of Rabat in central Malta soon appeared to the right of the aircraft.
Photobucket

On the opposite side of the aircraft, passengers were able to fantasize what it might had looked like from the pilot's point of view while on approach to runway 13 of Malta Luqa Airport at 1,500ft.
Photobucket

Following which, the aircraft banked to the southwest and crossed over the coast west of Dingli Cliffs to follow the southern coast of Malta. The luxury Radisson (SAS) Hotel soon appeared to our left as we overflew Golden Bay.
Photobucket

Popeye's Village is the former movie set for the live-action musical film 'Popeye' which was produced by Paramount Pictures in 1980. Also known as Sweethaven Village, the quirky collection of houses and shacks along the coast of Anchor Bay is now preserved as a family oriented theme park.
Photobucket

After just over ten minutes of flying time, we bade farewell to the island of Malta and headed across the Gozo Channel towards Gozo. The Cirkewwa ferry terminal is the main gateway for visitors and vehicles who wish to utilise the frequent Ro-Ro ferry crossing to Gozo.
Photobucket

Comino Island can also be seen to the starboard side of the aircraft amidst sparkling clear sapphire blue seas.
Photobucket

Making landfall over the island of Gozo, we were first greeted with a view of Xewkija / Gozo Heliport (GZM). The heliport was once used by Malta Air Charter which provided links between Malta and Gozo using a pair of Mil-8 helicopters between 1993 and 2004.
Photobucket

Victoria is the focal point of Gozo and also sits in the middle of the island.
Photobucket

Making a steep left bank over Victoria, we headed south towards the popular fishing village turned seaside resort town of Xlendi.
Photobucket

Much of Malta's and Gozo's coastline consists of steep limestone cliffs and white sandy beaches are few and far between. It would certainly be wise not to loiter too close to the edge!
Photobucket

Ro-Ro ferries discharge hundreds of daytrippers and vehicles from Malta at Mgarr Harbour every day. In addition, Harbour Air Malta also operates thrice daily flights to/from Valletta during the summer season.
Photobucket

As we headed back towards Malta, we cross the famed Blue Lagoon of Comino Island, where it was immediately apparent where the name had came from when viewed from the air.
Photobucket

Comino Island was rumoured to be once the hideout of pirates and smugglers within its numerous caves and grottoes - perfect as a shooting location for 'Pirates of the Mediterranean!" (if it ever happens).
Photobucket

Armier Bay after crossing back into Malta across the Gozo Channel.
Photobucket

Skirting past the northern coast of Malta at a modest 210km/h (112kts), Paceville looked relatively sedate in the mid-afternoon sun. By night, this district is transformed into one of the Mediterranean's hippest clubbing scene.
Photobucket

The upscale residential district of St Julian's. The Neptune's Waterpolo Club sits across from the Church of Our Lady of Mt Carmel at Balluta Bay.
Photobucket

Following an enjoyable flight, we commenced our descent into the Grand Harbour with passengers being able to enjoy one last look at the impressive bastions that ring the capital city of Valletta.
Photobucket

CPT Stéphane commencing a right turn to point the aircraft towards the Grand Harbour. Harbour Air Malta's pilots possess a minimum of 1,500hrs as pilot-in-command, and of which 500hrs are on seaplanes. As such, the current pilots are currently Canadian and are hired on a one year contract. Flying is strictly VFR for Harbour Air Malta's services but the crew are regularly examined on IFR techniques and rules as well.
Photobucket

Shipbuilding is a major industry in Malta, and the docks of Palumbo Dockyard in Conspicua come into view while on final approach into the Grand Harbour.
Photobucket

We skipped across the water surface thrice as the pilot feathered the propellers to slow the aircraft down sufficiently before taxiing back to the floating pontoon.

An obligatory photo of the flight deck before disembarkation. The right seat is sold as a premium seat to passengers who are keen to pay an extra 50% of their fare for this exclusive privilege.
Photobucket

Noting that we were not able to obtain a good photo of the floatplane when it departs on its next flight despite our best efforts, we decided to take a stroll down the Valletta Waterfront where we chanced upon a spot that would allow us to photograph the floatplane in action.
Photobucket

9H-AFA 'rotating' in front of us as it departs on a combined sightseeing/ shuttle flight to Gozo.
Photobucket

Harbour Air Malta had placed an order for a new DHC-6-400 Twin Otter with Viking Air of California. It is expected that the new twin would be used on flights to Sicily which lies 90km to the north of Malta and currently takes approximately 75mins on a fast ferry.
Photobucket

To continue with Day 11:
Scenic Malta - Day 11


Next Post: Intriguing Gozo - Day 12

You May Also Like

0 comments