It seems unbelievable that Gozo does not have a working airport

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Readers LetterMy family and I are regular visitors to Gozo: my Mother-in-Law lives there. My wife returned home to the UK yesterday after a dreadful crossing to Malta in a Force 8 gale, where the ferry was forced to go to the north of Comino, adding an extra ten nausea-inducing minutes to the journey time.

From a visitor’s viewpoint, it seems unbelievable that an island the size of Gozo does not have a working airport. Looking at the situation from a European viewpoint, comparisons with facilities on other islands may be useful to highlight just how poorly Gozo is served. I offer the following as a case-study.

Alderney is the third largest of the Channel Island group. With a resident population of 2400, the island is 3 miles (4.8 km) long by 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide and is situated approximately 10 miles (16km) from the coast of France and 60 miles (97 km) from the south coast of England. Not unnaturally, tourism and for the local population, inter-island and international travel is of major importance and an airport is considered vital. Is this, you may ask, a short grass track with a patch of lumpy tarmac and a dilapidated customs shed? Not a bit of it. Alderney has three operational runways: the main one is 880 m (2,887 ft) long and mainly asphalt. The two secondary runways are both grass: one being 732 m (2,402 ft) long, the other 497 m (1,631 ft).

Currently two airlines use the airport for regular services to the UK, the other Channel Islands and France. The aircraft used are the small ‘Islander’ propeller type: I’ve heard louder bees. Private light aircraft are positively encouraged: landing fees are very reasonable, starting from about £8 depending on aircraft weight, day of arrival and length of stay; parking is free for 72 hours for aircraft weighing less than three metric tonnes. This of course is very attractive to wealthier travellers who may wish to “pop across” for a short break, or even just a pleasant lunch. Yes, I know, not particularly environmentally friendly, but these people are going to fly somewhere to show off their nice shiny Cessnas to their friends, so why not make it attractive for them to land where your businesses will benefit?

So why does an island smaller than Gozo with a smaller population and much fewer tourist facilities have an airport of such a standard? From an outsider’s point of view, this question would seem to me to have a simple answer. Alderney is self-governing.

John A Hall
50 North Street
Steeple Bumpstead
Essex CB9 7DP

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    7 Responses

    1. However says:

      Before looking at the case studies, one needs to establish contexts to compare them. There are so many islands in Europe with and without airports, that otherwise it is meaningless. I can say that Ithaca (Ulysse’s homeland) does not have an airport (someone please correct if I am wrong, I’ll find another example), and the ferry crossing times are even longer, but so what?

      I reckon this letter puts three issues together:

      1. Does Gozo need an airport with commercial and/or private flights to make it more accessible?

      2. The issue of self-governance in making decision on issue 1.

      3. Accessibility to Gozo in winder under strong winds.

      On the first issue, the debate is ongoing. To resolve it, before looking at other cases, one needs to have a vision of Gozo, shared by all key stakeholders. It seems that there is no such vision, and no one has ever undertaken an exercise to develop it. Without a vision with expressed key values, and approved strategy leading to attainment of clearly formulated goals, the debate on whether the should be an airport on Gozo is meaningless… Regarding the suggested case study, the Alderney website (http://www.visitalderney.com/) states that “Alderney has managed to avoid mainstream tourism”, which seems desirable to many on Gozo…

      I would not speculate if Gozo had an airport if it were for the self-governing entity to decide. Alderney is an off-shore finance and e-commerce (mostly online gambling) location, and not part of the EU. Gozo is different. The context is so wildly different that I find it difficult to compare.

      Regarding aircraft in strong winds, I’ll leave it to someone more knowledgeable of aviation. I remember when old helicopter service was still in service, I checked in in Xewkija Heliport, and due to strong wind the chopper could not fly, and we were taken to the ferry by a minibus and by another minibus to the airport, and still made the flight. Have a look at
      http://scienceblogs.com/builtonfacts/2009/02/de_plane.php, I’d rather be on a large ferryboat north of Comino…

    2. Jonas Thor says:

      It is quite routine for the Gozo ferry boat to take a different route when the winds kick up a little bit. The Gozo ferry boats were engineered and built in Malta with all weather variables in mind. They are very strong boats and the crews are very professional. The captains know what they are doing and do not take chances. It is on the same safety format as flying in a passenger aircraft. Try a Malta taxi for a dreadful experiance. You have stated that a Gozo airport would not be particularly environmentally friendly. This is a true statement and a very negative factor for local public approval. As for the operating cost of this airport, would a few shiny Cessnas with a 8 euro landing fee support the construction and airport operating costs? Could you visualize the Gozo public forking out extra cash to support this project for the benefit of a few. If the weather would be too dreadful for a safe landing at the Gozo airport, then a less dreadful ferry boat ride would be the alternate outcome.

    3. Lesley Kreupl says:

      One simply cannot compare the situations of the two islands.

      Malta has a perfectly good airport, a bit inconvenient maybe, but with a bit of planning, it is less than an hour away – how long to most people have to travel to get to Heathrow or Gatwick?

      Why should all the Maltese residents have to subsidise an airport for the benefit of a few tourists and business people?

      If the ferries are not running, one can be almost sure that nothing small will be flying either!

    4. Joey says:

      Well go to Alderney mate and leave us alone! Rediculous idea, half the ‘mystique’ of Gozo is the ferry ride. If you don’t like the sea, don’t live or visit a small island, simple.

    5. Xandru says:

      I think this headline should read “It seems unbelievable that some utter twit thinks Gozo needs its own airport”

      Someone should call up Monte Carmeli to check if they have a free bed for the guy.

    6. mark says:

      As a pilot, I cant believe that I bought a house on the only Island on the planet with no airfield, but as a reader says it adds to the mystique, and hey thats good. A small aiport for private planes only would add to the accessability and add value to the island as long as it wasnt used for sight seeing flights.

      Mark
      PS, what makes the writer think an airplane would want to take off at all in a force 8!! I wouldnt.

    7. James A. Tyrrell says:

      @mark. Have to agree in part and disagree in part here Mark. I agree that taking off in a force 8 would not be top of my list of experiences to look forward to.

      As for a small airport adding value to the island I have to disagree. You can’t have your cake and eat it Mark. One of the things that Gozo has in its favour is the fact that it is so quiet and peaceful. It wouldn’t be that way for long with light aircraft buzzing around it like a swarm of hornets all day.

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