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MATS 20 Years | Chairman’s Interview

Mr. Borg Marks stepped into the world of air traffic control when he was just 25 years old when Malta was still under British rule. The island’s geographical location marked it an essential hub for travel, commerce, and trade to Europe and North Africa for centuries. The British left a few months later, and Malta’s air traffic services industry was born.

“When the British Forces left Malta on 31 March 1979, Air Traffic Control (ATC) handled a reasonable number of passenger aircraft that were small and much slower than the aircraft of today. As time went by, passenger aircraft became larger, with a higher passenger load. For obvious reasons, this facilitated work tremendously,” he said.

Meanwhile, he obtained his Aerodrome Controller rating, followed by an Approach Radar rating and a Procedural Area rating. On 1 January 1985, he became Airport Manager, managing the Maltese Airport Terminal until May 1988 when he returned to ATC and obtained his Area Radar rating.

“There was a boom in air traffic, increasing steadily every year. In the mid-80s, Malta ATC was equipped with area radar and, again, this made ATC more efficient in handling aircraft compared to the years before when ATC used procedural area control,” Mr. Borg Marks pointed out.

Aside from a surge in commercial airlines, there was an increase in local traffic as flying schools opened in Malta. This created a new environment that required a review of local procedures, especially for aerodrome controllers who had to handle a mix of small and large aircraft.

Other changes were in the air. Until the early 1990s, ATC was a Government entity and formed part of the Department of Civil Aviation. However, when Malta International Airport plc was set up in 1991, the authorities decided it was time to incorporate ATC with the new company tasked with developing, operating and managing Malta’s only airport. During this period, which lasted for about 10 years, ATC staff were removed from the military and gained civil status. Mr. Borg Marks said that this move was a “breath of fresh air” for the staff who now started to enjoy better working conditions. In 2002, Malta Air Traffic Services Ltd. was formed as an independent company owned by the Maltese Government.

In July 2009, he was appointed Acting Director of Civil Aviation, steering the then Department of Civil Aviation into the transition from a Government department to a directorate within Transport Malta, and then after appointed Director General in January 2014.

Not only did he oversee and witness many vital changes in Malta’s aviation industry but also how research and technology created new challenges. Remotely piloted aircraft, or drones, brought an entirely new perspective to aviation, which “could possibly grow from recreational/professional flying to, perhaps, commercial passenger-carrying aircraft flown by a pilot on the ground”.

In fact, he pointed out that ATC was rapidly becoming more computer-based. “I would assume that we shall soon see a lot of new developments that will facilitate the work, not only for air traffic controllers but also for the technical staff”.

Aside from being more efficient, The use of more advanced equipment in aircraft increases the element of safety. “I also envisage a lot more virtual control of aircraft by introducing more sophisticated equipment while still maintaining the human element in the centre.”

Throughout his career, his love for aviation grew exponentially.

“Aviation is a contagious disease. Once one gets the bug, one never gets rid of it. A career in ATC is very rewarding, both as a professional and as a person who contributes to the safety of people travelling and to aircraft operators by being efficient while respecting the environment. Air traffic controllers use state-of-the-art equipment that saves fuel and time for aircraft operators thus making flight environmentally friendly.

My recommendation to anyone who wishes to pursue a career in ATC would be to work hard in obtaining a good level of education which would certainly help, especially in the first few months during which initial training is given,” he said.

However, training never stops in air traffic services as one has to keep up to date with the latest developments.

“Perseverance is necessary, but the rewards are great,” Mr. Borg Marks said.