We have no redundancy
Practically, all comments regarding last Monday’s unfortunate air crash at the airport regarded the issue how it happened, how it could have been worse for people who happened to pass from there just a few minutes before, then what was the real mission of the plane, what was it doing in Malta, what is going on behind our backs with regards to Libya, etc. etc.
What follows are reflections that go beyond all this, but do not mean that the above issues are in any way to be put aside. Simply put: What we want to point out is that as regards air travel, we in Malta are without any redundancy. On Monday, once the airport was closed, there was no alternative way, not just for civil aviation and general aviation but also as regards the Armed Forces flying wing. We have no doubt that the decision to close the airport was the right decision to take even though we have two runways and the accident took place on the shorter one, thus leaving the long runway free.
But once the decision not to fly was taken, there was no way for flights either arriving
or departing. As happens when the Malta airport is closed eg for storms, arriving planes had to land in Sicily and then fly to Malta later, thus leading to a huge knock-on delay which was still causing delays up to a day later.
The fact is we have no alternative airport. Now this can be interpreted as a specious argument in favour of an airport in Gozo, but it isn’t. MIA is Malta’s front door, and we, so far, have no other alternative. We have no redundancy. It should be a strategic imperative that we as a country must have an alternative, for so many reasons, not just in case of an accident, or in case of a storm. In electricity provision we do have a redundancy, an alternative, but we have no such alternative as regards air travel. As regards access to Gozo, we have been around this for so many times. We have toyed with a bridge, lately with a tunnel – all costly means. At the same time, there has been rock-like opposition to lengthening the small runway at the heliport so that it can take small planes. The end result is a heliport lying there all abandoned. We are not asking that today; we must think in a more strategic manner. It is in Malta’s overlying strategic interest to develop a small airport at Xewkija that can take planes that normally land at MIA with enough facilities that permit a turnaround. The land is there, and most of it is neglected anyway.
Obviously, an airport at Xewkija, even if a small one, will create an opportunity for its surroundings, jobs, opportunities to fly from there rather than from Malta, etc. What used to be unthought of in the past has now become a reality: Ryanair, for instance, flies from Comiso to many airports in Europe.
And certainly, both Gozitans and people enjoying a holiday in Gozo relish catching a plane right there on Gozo than going through all the hassle of catching the ship, and travelling all the long way along Malta’s congested roads to get to MIA.
But the main reason is that in today’s world Malta cannot just have one main door and no other.