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Fog impacts inbound flights again

Pic by Brian Reyes

The easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Gibraltar diverted to Malaga on Monday morning as, once again, fog surrounded the Rock and reduced visibility for inbound flights.

However, passengers later returned and successfully landed in Gibraltar once the fog lifted.

Two other flights, the easyJet service from Manchester and the British Airways service from Heathrow, landed in Gibraltar, with the BA flight holding off over the Alboran Sea until the fog lifted and giving the pilot the required visibility to land.

The diversion, a common occurrence when sea fog surrounds the airfield, comes after a week of disruption to air passengers caused by a series of events.

Last Friday, flights did not depart on time when two planes were boarded and ready to depart but were held back because air traffic controllers were on a break.

The Ministry of Defence, which is responsible for the runway, said the reason for the delay was the weather, with the Rock engulfed in low cloud which hindered visibility for much of the morning.

NATS, the company that operates air traffic control under contract to the MoD, said: “Bad weather impacted flights into Gibraltar on Friday morning, causing delays and diversions.”

“As a result of this disruption to the schedule, we were forced to stop providing an air traffic control service for a 45-minute period, to allow for the controllers on shift to take a break.”

“Safety is always our highest priority. The decision to delay two departures from Gibraltar Airport enabled us to maintain a safe service and we apologise for the inconvenience caused by this.”

The hours controllers work, and the breaks they take, are controlled and regulated by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to ensure against fatigue.

On Wednesday last week, a Gibraltar-wide power cut and a back-up generator failure meant that no planes could land or take off.

As a result, the easyJet flight to Manchester departed an hour-and-a-half late, the British Airways flight to Heathrow was delayed around 50 minutes and the easyJet Gatwick service was diverted to Malaga but returned later.

The MoD told the Chronicle at the time that it was looking into the issue immediately to understand why the generator had failed.

Two days earlier, on Monday evening, easyJet’s flight from Gatwick to Gibraltar was diverted to Malaga because of an unexpected shortage of air traffic control personnel.

Passengers were bussed to and from Gibraltar after the runway was closed late afternoon.

NATS confirmed that Friday’s delay to departures was “unrelated to short notice staff sickness” on Monday which related to air traffic services assistants not controllers.

The company told the Chronicle last week that it was recruiting new air traffic services assistants that are currently being trained to bolster the resilience of the service it provides.

Disruptions last week drew a strong response from the Ministry of Defence, which said it was “urgently” asking NATS to provide a solution to the problem.

In addition, the Gibraltar Government said that it had “made clear” to the MoD that it should push NATS to address the issue.

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