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Closure of airport ‘damaged Gibraltar’s reputation’, No.6 says

The closure of the airport on Sunday damaged Gibraltar’s reputation, the Gibraltar Government said yesterday as it expressed disappointment in the UK-based company that runs air traffic control in Gibraltar.

The statement came after all flights to and from Gibraltar were diverted or cancelled on Sunday evening after air traffic control was closed due to staff sickness.

Two inbound flights from Gatwick were diverted to Malaga, while the service linking the Rock to Casablanca via Tangier was cancelled outright.

A spokesman for NATS, the company that runs air traffic control in Gibraltar under contract to the Ministry of Defence, said the disruption was “ due to short notice staff sickness” which led to a shortage of air traffic controllers.

But while the company apologised for the disruption, the government said the closure had been harmful to Gibraltar’s reputation at a very delicate time.

“It is ironic that Government has just announced a major PR campaign in London in which we claim that ‘Gibraltar is open for business.’ Not yesterday, it wasn’t,” the statement from No.6 read.

“By forcing the airport to close, NATS failed to honour its contract with MOD and caused three flights to be cancelled or diverted.”

“Obviously, this resulted in hundreds of passengers, both inbound and outbound, being severely inconvenienced.”

According to No.6, off-duty controllers who were asked to cover their sick colleague declined to do so. It is not clear why this was, although controllers generally work to specific hours to ensure high safety standards.

“With an insufficient number of staff on duty, there was no other course of action than to close the airport,” No.6 said, adding that it regretted NATS had no provision in its contracts with controllers to ensure cover in such circumstances.

“The Government also regrets that Gibraltar airport’s controllers were clearly not being as cooperative as they could have been,” No.6 added.

The caretaker Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said: “I urge NATS, MOD and the unions to resolve any outstanding issues and to update their procedures so that there are no repetitions of yesterday’s disgraceful failure.”

“As we transition through whatever Brexit brings us, it is absolutely essential that Gibraltar and its airport are always open for business.”