The new year marked 100 years since the first regular commercial air service went into operation. On January 1, 1914, a handful of passengers boarded a seaplane for the first scheduled flight between St Petersburg and Tampa in Florida and each paid the worldly sum of $400 for the 20-minute flight.

In today’s money that was the equivalent of $9,300 (€6,890).

Aviation has come a long way since then in commercial terms but also in technical terms.

In my opinion, this peaked with the entry into service of Concorde in 1976 that for 27 years carried high net worth passengers at twice the speed of sound, or 2,180 kilometres per hour, at an altitude of 65,000 feet – twice as high as any commercial aircraft flying today.

The new year also marked a milestone in civil aviation history in Malta as the final countdown showed that just over four million passengers had flown in and out of our airport in 2013.

It was a fitting end to a year when, at last, the paramount role of civil aviation in our lives was at last acknowledged both locally and globally.

On a global level, the UN World Tourism Organisation more than ever before acknowledged the pivotal link between aviation and tourism. There cannot exist one without the other.

As recently as December 5, the UNWTO secretary general Taleb Refai spoke about “the growing recognition of the intrinsic relationship between air transport and tourism as well as the growing need to think beyond sectoral ‘silos’ and work closer together”.

“It is the only way forward if we are to ensure air transport and tourism play their part in building the foundations of a more sustainable future in all its three pillars: social, economic and environmental,” he said.

Only a few weeks before, in September 2013, what became known as the Réunion Island Declaration on Sustainable Tourism in Islands was endorsed by the UNWTO and the government of France and opened for ratification by UNWTO member states.

It explicitly states in article 4, in connection with connectivity of islands as a prerequisite for success in tourism: “Island destinations are dependent on air transport to provide effective access to source markets.

“Tourism and transport policies must be coordinated to pursue optimal growth in connectivity and secure economic benefits for island communities.”

The Malta research and innovation strategy identifies tourism and aviation as two of eight ‘smart specialisation’ thematic areas for further development

At a local level, 2013 also proved to be a milestone year in civil aviation as the newly elected government, for the first time, elevated aviation to ministerial responsibility as part of the Ministry for Tourism in recognition of the pivotal link between aviation and tourism and the increasing relevance of fast and efficient connectivity between Malta and the rest of the world.

In April 2013, the Minister for Tourism with responsibility for aviation set up an aviation advisory committee.

This committee of experts in the aviation field immediately set out to achieve two primary objectives, namely the formulation of a civil aviation policy and the setting up of a Civil Aviation Authority.

After extensive consultation with all those directly or indirectly affected by aviation, the civil aviation policy for Malta 2014 – 2020 was launched on December 7.

The launch date was chosen to coincide with World Aviation Day, which is celebrated every year in commemoration of the landmark Convention on International Civil Aviation, signed in Chicago on December 7, 1944.

It is worth remembering that September 2013 also saw the launch of another landmark local policy document, namely the National Strategy for Research and Innovation 2020, in line with the requirement of the EU Horizon 2020 strategy, which requires each EU member state to identify areas of ‘smart specialisation’ that will drive sustainable development in member states to 2020 and beyond.

The Malta research and innovation strategy clearly identifies tourism and aviation as two of the eight ‘smart specialisation’ thematic areas to be targeted for further development.

It follows, therefore, that the civil aviation policy for Malta 2014-2020 is designed in such a way as to enable the aviation sector to expand not only by increasing the number of passengers travelling by air to and from the island but also by means of offering ancillary services such as aircraft registration, an increase in maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operators, improved cargo services and increased activity in training and research in this field.

The civil aviation policy for Malta 2014-2020 is, as the name implies, a ‘policy’ document.

Having said that, the policy opens the door for the establishment of a civil aviation authority (CAA) in the coming weeks.

This will be another first for Malta on the 50th anniversary of sovereign statehood.

It will be the ‘planning’ task of the CAA to ensure that the ‘policy’ is implemented.

A copy of the civil aviation policy for Malta 2014-2020 is available to download from .

Alfred Quintano is chairman of the Aviation Advisory Committee and deputy chairman of Malta International Airport plc.

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