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Engineers identify phone line fault impacting airport, set up alternative while repairs under way

Pic by Brian Reyes

A technical fault in a phone link connecting air traffic controllers in Gibraltar and Seville has been identified and engineers are working “tirelessly” to fix it, with an alternative system put in place to ensure Gibraltar International Airport can operate normally on Friday.

The phone line is used to record the handover between air traffic controllers in Seville and Gibraltar, and is required in order to comply with air safety rules.

But the fault prevented that vital exchange between controllers in Gibraltar and Seville, meaning at least five flights to Gibraltar were diverted to Malaga over the course of Wednesday and Thursday.

Hundreds of passengers faced delays and disruption as a result.

Early on Thursday the Ministry of Defence, which owns the runway, said the fault was on the Spanish side and that Gibtelecom and Telefonica were working together to resolve it.

“Engineers have identified the faults that are currently limiting airfield operations in Gibraltar,” the MoD said in an update on Thursday night.

“MoD, engineers and other agencies are working tirelessly to resolve the situation.”

In a separate statement, the Gibraltar Government also confirmed that while the main system was still down, an alternative had been put in place.

“The Government is pleased to confirm that it is informed by the MoD that the issues affecting communications at the Air Traffic Control Tower are now resolved,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“The main communications system is still down but an alternative has been accepted by Civil Aviation Authority and the Military Aviation Authority whilst a full repair is effected and greater redundancies and resilience is provided.”

“Flights will operate normally from Gibraltar Airport tomorrow [meaning Friday].

“Further details on the issues that arose and more permanent solutions to ensure no repetition of these communications issues is expected from the MoD.”

“In the interim, the Government will further withhold payment on the Commercial Use agreement in respect of the downtime suffered these past 48 hours.”

The line first went down on Wednesday and two flights were diverted that day as a result.

The first flight was the afternoon BA service from Heathrow, which landed in Spain leaving outbound passengers waiting for hours to be told about alternative travel arrangements.

The flight should have left at 5.30pm but it was not until 9pm that passengers, who were still waiting in the departure lounge in Gibraltar, were told the service had been cancelled, and that they would be offered seats on a 1pm flight on Thursday.

The second flight was the evening easyJet service from Manchester, which was also diverted to Spain. Passengers on that flight were bussed to the Spanish airport for a late departure.

But the problem had yet to be resolved on Thursday, with the morning easyJet flight from Gatwick, the afternoon BA service from Heathrow and the evening easyJet flight from Bristol also affected.

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