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Phone line fault in Spain hits Gib air traffic control for second day, diverting flights

Pic by Brian Reyes

Engineers from Gibtelecom and Telefonica were working on Thursday to fix a fault in a telephone line that resulted in commercial flights to Gibraltar being diverted for two consecutive days.

The fault is on the Spanish side of the network, according to the Ministry of Defence, but its impact has led to disruption affecting hundreds of passengers flying to and from Gibraltar.

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.

There is no fallback alternative in place and without a secure phone connection, the handover cannot take place and flights cannot be cleared to land.

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 and the afternoon BA service from Heathrow also affected.

“On Wednesday 28th December 2022, there was a telephone line failure between the Seville Air Traffic Control Centre and Gibraltar,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, which owns the runway, said on Wednesday.

“As a result, Seville were unable to hand aircraft over to Gibraltar which resulted in two flights being diverted to Malaga.”

At the time, the MoD said engineers were investigating the issue. But the problem had yet to be resolved the following day.

“The fault is on the Seville ATC side and Gibtel and Telefonica are currently working together to resolve the issue,” an MoD spokesperson told the Chronicle early Thursday afternoon.

The Gibraltar Government was carefully monitoring the latest developments and said it would work to keep disruption to a minimum.

“His Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar is always disappointed to see aircraft being diverted and passengers being inconvenienced regardless of the reasons that make these occur,” a spokesperson for No.6 Convent Place told the Chronicle.

“On this occasion it is due to a technical fault and is a safety issue. Our understanding is that the MoD is actively trying to resolve this.”

“The diversionary procedures in place are well planned and executed and although they add more travelling time to passengers, still ensure that the airlines continue operating and providing a service.”

“We will continue working both with the MoD and the airlines to do our best to keep this disruption to a minimum.”

The problems took a political dimension too as the GSD raised concern about the latest developments, noting they followed previous disruption at air traffic control in Gibraltar and brought into question the resilience of the Rock’s air links.

“Whether it is staff related issues which has on more than one occasion caused flight diversions, flight changes caused by bad weather and the ensuing disruption to non-Schengen passengers to now a telephone line fault, the concern is that Gibraltar’s ability to function a normal airport is being put into question,” said GSD MP Damon Bossino.

“There will be many different strands to this, not least the fact that this is an MoD airport but the reality is that transport and communication are basic ingredients for a successful economy and everything must be done to ensure that we have the resilience to meet as many of these challenges as possible, so that one of our economic lifelines is not continually put into jeopardy.”

“None of this is welcome, particularly in the wake of the COVID lockdown or weeks after the aviation conference held in Gibraltar.”

“One area which Gibraltar should surely be able to easily address is the information which is given to passengers of flight delays and disruption.”

“There have been complaints that passengers have been kept in the dark for many hours and this is unacceptable.”
“We see no reason why this information cannot be given in a timely manner.”

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