NATS air traffic control towers liaise with centres at Swanwick and Prestwick – but the NATS team at Gibraltar have a very different “partner” centre.
Controllers at the most distant NATS tower, a British Overseas Territory at the southern tip of Spain, liaise with controllers at Seville air traffic control centre when aircraft are arriving and departing.
And despite political arguments over the sovereignty of Gibraltar that flare up from time to time, the air traffic control service runs very smoothly.
NATS Gibraltar General Manager Trevor Hammond said: “From an aviation perspective the relationship with Spain and the partner centre in Seville works really well. It is a very professional arrangement.”
Trevor, a Gibraltarian himself, heads up the team at this unique airport, which has the main road between the frontier with Spain and Gibraltar town running right through the middle of the runway.
The operation deals with a combination of civil and military aircraft from early morning to late at night. The airport operator is the Ministry of Defence and the contract was renewed last year and expanded to include engineering services.
Every arrival and departure from Gibraltar is something of an event – with the main road having to be closed to traffic until the aircraft is either safely landed or has departed.
And there are challenges for pilots flying in and out of the airport too – not least that the sea is at each end of the runway.
“We do not have an instrument landing system (ILS) here either,” said Trevor. “That is relatively unusual for pilots approaching airports these days. It means the pilot cannot rely on automation here and they have to land the aircraft themselves.
“Also, the rock being so close to the runway creates a lot of turbulence for landing aircraft – it can be quite severe when there is a strong wind.”
The sea at each end of the runway means controllers have to be sure ships and boats do not get too close to where aircraft may be landing or taking off. It also means there is a significant problem with birds on the runway.
Trevor said: “As well as the ATC service we provide the bird control and the medical response team – every RAF station has to have a capability to deliver a medical response for any aircraft incident.
“Some of our staff have had some very specific and rigorous training to be able to provide that service in case of an emergency triage response being needed.”
Some staff live across the border in Spain and travel back into Gibraltar to work, while others live in the British Overseas Territory itself. But either way they can enjoy year round sunshine and hot summers.
Trevor added: “It is a great place to live and work with a fantastic lifestyle but when we are at work we are focused on delivering a safe and efficient service for our customers.”
Some photos of the operation at Gibraltar:
Hear Trevor discuss the challenges and opportunities that managing the air traffic service at Gibraltar Airport brings in our video below:
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