Thursday, March 8, 2012


There is the ongoing debate about the new air terminal and the tunnel at the end of the runway which has the appearance of a World War I trench. However it is neither of these that I am going to touch on today but rather the runway.

There has been a documentary which I believe has appeared on a number of TV channels which rates Gibraltar as the fifth most dangerous airport in the world. I have no great faith in such analysis but it could be argued that having a giant Rock beside the runway, a town just yards away, a road crossing the runway’s centre, a very short runway by modern standards and the fact you have to approach over what at times can be hazardous seas could mark it out as not the safest place for an aircraft packed with passengers to land.

I flew back in to Gibraltar on Sunday in what appeared to be good conditions. However I was rather taken aback when the pilot told us as we passed over Málaga that Gibraltar had a very short runway and if he was not happy with his landing approach he would go to full power and come round again. In the event he didn’t yet several years ago I was in an aircraft that approached from the east in very stormy conditions. The pilot attempted a landing, aborted and circled the Rock before re-approaching. The winds were so strong I would have been happy for him to have diverted to Málaga but on the second attempt we landed smoothly enough.

Gibraltar’s economy now and in the future depends on tourism hence the airport is a vital factor in sustaining and developing that market. It is also necessary for the Rock’s security. If Spain sometime in the future decided to close the border again the airport would be the only viable way in or out.

The airport has primarily been an RAF base in the hands of the Ministry of Defence. It is now a shared operation with the Gibraltar Government but I wonder if the runway should be lengthened both in the interests of safety and also to allow larger aircraft to land? If it should: then who should pay? The MoD or the Gibraltar Government?

I asked an expert in the field of aviation, no name – no pack drill, about the runway. He told me: “Airports are heavily regulated as concerns the type and size of aircraft that can land and take off. There are substantial margins built in. As far as I know, no aircraft bigger than Boeing 737 can land at Gibraltar – the runway is 1,829m, but as it’s hard to imagine any airline wanting to operate a larger, wide bodied aircraft there, I don’t think it would be an issue.”

In recent years I have flown in and out of Gibraltar in various smaller Airbuses. However on more than one occasion I have flown in to Málaga on airlines that also use Gibraltar where indeed a wide bodies aircraft was used because of the large number of passengers onboard. That being the case when budget airlines plan their routes they know they couldn’t use a larger aircraft to get in to Gibraltar even if they wanted to and this could be a factor in opting for Málaga against the Rock when planning routes.

It is a fact that the runway is extremely short and perhaps when planning the new terminal and tunnel this should have been taken in to account. Mind you given the chaos that would ensue if two aircraft tried to discharge their passengers at the same time in to the new terminal perhaps what the airport needs is an airline that only flies Tiger Moths.