3,000-me­tre wide, 2,000-foot high no-fly zone around LNG tanker

• Avi­a­tion source says air­craft move­ment in Marsaxlokk area could be se­verely af­fected

Malta Independent - - FRONT PAGE - Neil Camil­leri

Trans­port Malta will im­pose a no-fly zone with a di­am­e­ter of three kilo­me­tres and a height of 2,000 feet around the LNG tanker and power sta­tion, The Malta Independent can re­veal.

The re­stricted area stretches from the San Luċ­jan tower to Fort De­li­mara to Xrobb l-Għaġin, mean­ing that air­craft can no longer fly over the De­li­mara penin­sula.

Sources in the avi­a­tion in­dus­try said the move could se­verely re­strict the move­ment of pri­vate and com­mer­cial flights.

This news­pa­per has seen an email sent to pi­lots and fly­ing schools by the Civil Avi­a­tion Di­rec­torate in which it in­forms them that it has been in­structed and tasked to es­tab­lish “in the short­est time pos­si­ble” Malta’s first Pro­hib­ited Area sur­round­ing the cen­tral ar­eas of the LNG Tanker / De­li­mara Power Sta­tion. “This area needs to be pub­lished in the short­est time pos­si­ble,” the email says.

The CAD said it was no­ti­fy­ing pi­lots now in­stead of let­ting them find out about the changes by means of a No­tam (No­tice to Air­men). “We thought it was only in your in­ter­est to be ad­vised about such Pro­hib­ited Airspace at these early stages in or­der to plan any (if re­quired) mod­i­fi­ca­tions to

your Stan­dard Op­er­at­ing Pro­ce­dures and/or Ops Man­u­als.”

The di­rec­torate said “air­craft be­ing asked to hold in Marsas­cala area or for those air­craft asked or wish­ing to per­form a wide right hand vis­ual cir­cuit 31 might need (on the ba­sis of air­craft class and per­for­mance) to plan ahead” us­ing two pro­vided routes.

The CAD asked the pi­lots for feed­back where they “feel that the in­clu­sion of such an area (1.5 km ra­dius and alti­tude 2000 feet) will have any gross op­er­a­tional is­sues that may af­fect your day to day op­er­a­tions.”

Email cor­re­spon­dence sent be­tween the CAD and TM’s Air Nav­i­ga­tion Ser­vices & Aero­dromes Unit shows that the aim of the pro­hib­ited fly­ing area is to “pro­tect the De­li­mara power plants from air­borne risks.”

First ever per­ma­nent no-fly zone

An avi­a­tion in­dus­try source who spoke to this news­pa­per said the an­nounce­ment of a no-fly zone jarred with govern­ment state­ments that there were no threats, from land or air, to the power sta­tion.

The source pointed out that this would be the first per­ma­nent nofly zone in the Mal­tese is­lands. “There are a cou­ple of dan­ger zones, which in­cludes the area around the Pem­broke AFM shoot­ing ranges, but these are not per­ma­nent and are ac­ti­vated by no­tice.”

The im­po­si­tion of a no-fly zone around the Marsaxlokk/Birżeb­buġa area would surely af­fect air traf­fic, he said. “If they were to do a no-fly zone on Gozo it would have hardly af­fected any­one but we are speak­ing about a cir­cuit pat­tern where many air­craft ma­noeu­vre in prepa­ra­tion for land­ing. Many peo­ple think that air­craft ap­proach in a straight line and just land on the run­way when in fact air­craft use hold­ing pat­terns around the run­way be­fore land­ing.”

The re­stricted area is more likely to af­fect fly­ing schools and pri­vate air­craft as the au­thor­i­ties might start al­low­ing fewer air­craft in the air at any one time.

Mov­ing hold­ing area out to sea ‘not ideal’

The source added that mov­ing the hold­ing area out to sea is not ideal for small sin­gle-en­gine planes. “Sim­ply put, if your en­gine fails you end up in the wa­ter.”

Asked if com­mer­cial air­lines could also be af­fected – many air­craft ap­proach from the Birżeb­buġa area for land­ing – the source said this is pos­si­ble if there are many air­craft in the cir­cuit. “In such a case air­craft could be asked to take longer turns. This is not ideal for com­mer­cial air­lines as ev­ery ex­tra minute they spend in the air trans­lates into higher fuel costs.”

The source said he could not un­der­stand why the CAD email men­tioned only land­ings when, in his opin­ions, the no-fly-zone could have a more pro­found ef­fect on take-offs. “Take the re­cent plane crash in Safi. If the ac­ci­dent had taken place two min­utes later the air­craft would have crashed in the area of the power sta­tion.”

He added that, while pi­lots were be­ing urged to send their feed­back, the email they had re­ceived im­plied that the de­ci­sion had al­ready been taken. “I would say that the no-fly zone will be in place by De­cem­ber,” the source added.

Prob­a­bil­ity of plane crash on fa­cil­ity remote – study

One of the LNG project risk re­ports pub­lished re­cently by the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Author­ity iden­ti­fied over­head air­craft as a po­ten­tial risk but said that es­tab­lished flight paths did not pass on top of the plant. “Im­pact, di­rect or other­wise, by an air­craft could po­ten­tially dam­age the De­li­mara 4 CCGT and LNG Ter­mi­nal, in­clud­ing process equip­ment and as­so­ci­ated pipe works.”

But it says that the new (LNG) fa­cil­i­ties are out of the air­port land­ing and take­off ap­proach routes and “no spe­cific de­sign re­quire­ment has been im­ple­mented for such an ac­ci­dent.”

The Risk As­sess­ment re­port also states that “as the new De­li­mara 4 CCGT and LNG Ter­mi­nal is lo­cated at 5 km from Malta / Luqa Air­port, and out of land­ing / take­off in­stru­men­tal ap­proach route, air­craft crash on equip­ment is as­sumed to be remote.”

The sec­tion on ter­ror­ism was blacked out.

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