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Aviation: Gibraltar Airport

Volume 690: debated on Wednesday 14 March 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many incidents have been reported in relation to air safety at Gibraltar Airport in the past six months.

My Lords, there have been seven occurrences at Gibraltar Airport in the past six months that have resulted in mandatory occurrence reports being raised. I undertake to write to my noble friend with full details of these occurrence reports. One of them refers to the occurrence on 29 November, which was the subject of my noble friend’s recent Questions for Written Answer.

My Lords, I received misleading Answers to those Questions. The pilot of the 22 November flight stated publicly that he had aborted that flight because a Chinook helicopter was on the runway. When I tabled the Question, I was told that it was a fire engine collecting refuse. In view of those remarks and the fact that I was on that flight, how can I have any confidence at all in air safety at Gibraltar?

My Lords, my noble friend is slightly mistaken. He said that he was on the aircraft on 22 November and I am told that it was 29 November.

Yes, my Lords, I am told that my noble friend Lord Hoyle was certainly on that aircraft on 29 November. My noble friend raises a very important point. I now have the benefit of having the air traffic control log for that day being made available to me. It is clear from that that indeed the aircraft was asked to take another turn around, because a fire service vehicle was on the runway clearing and making an inspection to see whether there were any foreign objects damaging the runway. I would happily read out the log, but it is full of rogers and wilcos, and it is written in a jargon that is understandable only to those who work in air traffic control and is not accessible to mere mortals like ourselves.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since the signing of the Cordoba agreement there has been an increased number of scheduled flights at Gibraltar, although I am not sure about fire engines. The Governor of Gibraltar has increased investment in both the approach roads and the terminal buildings. The problem seems to be airside—the operational side of what is still a Royal Air Force base. When can we expect to see the normal five-mile exclusion zone around the airfield to protect it? When can we expect to see the normal five-mile straight-in approach on landing? When can we expect to see upgrading of the radar and navigational aids so that there is no further exclusive reliance on a visual-only approach to Gibraltar Airport?

My Lords, I do not have those details. Obviously the noble Lord raises a very important point; the need to ensure that it is perfectly safe to land at Gibraltar Airport, which I assure the noble Lord it is, as a result of its integration into the EU common aviation area following the Cordoba agreement. I am advised that satisfactory progress is being made towards that objective. However, the airport has one fundamental problem—a major road runs across the runway. That will have to be dealt with in the fullness of time.

My Lords, as perhaps the only Member of your Lordships’ House who has flown an aircraft in and out of Gibraltar—

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that, contrary to some of the ribaldry that we have just heard, the air traffic controllers at Gibraltar, who are by and large RAF controllers, are absolutely first class, despite the difficulties that they have to face?

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former Governor of Gibraltar, who has used the airport very regularly indeed for three consecutive years. While I have every sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Hoyle, and support very much his priority that safety comes first at Gibraltar Airport, will the Minister confirm that the very important agreement that was reached between the Spanish Government, the British Government and the Government of Gibraltar in Cordoba in September last year should be leading by now to the end of all restrictions on the use of Spanish airspace neighbouring Gibraltar Airport, thus enhancing safety for all military and civilian aircraft landing there?

My Lords, the noble Lord speaks with tremendous experience on this matter. That is the objective of the Cordoba agreement and I am sure it is an objective that the whole House will share.

My Lords, to correct the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, I have also flown in and out of Gibraltar.

My Lords, I have to tell the Minister that the approaches there are what are technically called by airmen pretty hairy on occasion. Will he take back the questions that my noble friend Lord Chidgey asked as they relate to important aspects of future flight safety at Gibraltar?

My Lords, despite the hilarity that has accompanied this Question, all of these issues are important because they relate to aircraft safety. The points made by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, are important and should be taken into consideration.

My Lords, will my noble friend encourage NATS Ltd to continue to give all the assistance that it can to the air management authorities in Gibraltar to ensure that we have the safest possible skies there? Secondly, will he congratulate NATS Ltd on being one of the top 20 companies in the UK and on being seen by its staff as being so good, following the introduction of the PPP by this Government?

My Lords, I congratulate NATS. It does a fine job, and its advice on this matter has been first-class and first-rate. It should be congratulated on the way in which it maintains our safe skies.