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Govt slams another ‘unacceptable’ runway closure due to staff sickness

Archive image of easyJet planes in Gibraltar. Photo by Johnny Bugeja

Gibraltar Airport was closed again on Thursday afternoon due to staff sickness at air traffic control, in a development described as “unacceptable” by the Gibraltar Government.

The closure arose due to unexpected support staff shortage due to sickness, an issue that has led to similar situations in the past.

NATS, the company that operates air traffic control here under contract to the Ministry of Defence, said earlier this summer that it was recruiting and training additional “air traffic services assistants” to bolster resilience.

But the problems persist and the development on Thursday again put focus on recurring issues at the airport due to air traffic control.

The Government said the closure impacted on easyJet’s evening flight from Gatwick, which was diverted.

“The Government of Gibraltar very much regrets that NATS and MoD continue to fail to resolve their labour relations issue, a failure which will be of inconvenience to hundreds of passengers and which will have an adverse impact on Gibraltar’s reputation,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement.

“The Government believes the continued labour issues affecting Air Traffic Control are unacceptable and understand the MoD are building resilience to resolve this as a matter of urgency.”

The MoD confirmed the issue arose due to staff sickness and that the easyJet flight was diverted.

Earlier this year, the MoD said it was “urgently” discussing with NATS how the problems with staffing could be addressed.

Last night, the GSD also voiced concern about the latest development on the runway.

“It is simply not acceptable that at a time when Gibraltar should be seeking to improve its economy, with flight connectivity playing a central part in this effort, that flights should experience cancellation in this way,” said Damon Bossino, the Shadow Minister for Transport.

“Gibraltar simply cannot afford to cancel flights because of staff illness at the airport again.”

“We have now had far too many incidents of this nature and this issue needs to be resolved once and for all.”

“This latest development is particularly worrying when NATS announced as recently as July that it would be boosting airport personal to avoid further flight disruptions.”

Mr Bossino was critical too of the Gibraltar Government, which had urged the MoD and NATS to resolve issues with “labour relations” but later clarified that the closure arose due to staff sickness.

For the GSD, the Government needed to keep a closer eye on this issue.

“The Government needs to be in close contact with the MOD, be fully informed of what is going on and apply the necessary pressure to ensure that there is no further repeat of this embarrassing episode because this is not the first time there have been issues in recent months,” Mr Bossino said.

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