A decision by Cabinet on a proposed airstrip in Gozo to service fixed-winged light aircraft has been indefinitely shelved, possibly until after the next general election.
While Transport Minister Censu Galea expressed himself non-committal when asked about the matter, senior government sources last night revealed that although a decision has been taken as to the length of the airstrip and the type of aircraft that would be permitted to run the airlink service, the issue is that government is reluctant to move forward and decide on the matter at this time.
“Government does not intend to confront environmentalist groups at this point in time,” said a source, while adding that the reluctance by the Cabinet office to include the airstrip issue on the discussion agenda has irked ministers Censu Galea and Giovanna Debono who have been repeatedly appealing to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to respond to the urgency of the issue.
An ad hoc committee set up by both Transport and Gozo ministries last October evaluated a number of options as to the viability of a fixed-wing operation in Gozo, and have in fact delivered a favourable verdict.
The committee, together with the planning authority (MEPA) and civil aviation officials also drew up draft plans for a proposed airstrip that compliments the existing helipad in Xewkija and submitted them to both ministries.
Since Spanish operators Helisureste pulled out of their helicopter service last August after a mere six months in operation, government has received a number of proposals by companies and individuals for a fixed-wing light aircraft service to Gozo.
Interest has been expressed by British, Canadian and local companies, many of which are prepared to start operations with almost immediate effect. All proposals offer different aircraft which require different airstrip lengths.
While UK-based Synergy Aviation proposed an Islander nine-seat aircraft that required not more than a maximum of 450 metres of airstrip, Maltese registered Falcon Aviation proposed a 1.2 kilometre airstrip to service a 19-seat Czech-built Let 410 aircraft (as seen in the photograph).
Maltese-Canadian company Harbour-Air proposed a seaplane service, though the proposal was immediately shot down by almost all those involved in the process.
Months of studies by the ad hoc committee have produced a report that was in fact passed on to government before Christmas recommending a short strip and definitely not a 1.2 kilometre one.
The experts are reported to have worked hand-in-hand with MEPA who in turn worked within the parameters of the already projected airstrip development in Xewkija as this is already provided for in last July’s updated local plan for Gozo.
News about the indefinite postponement by government to decide on an airstrip for Gozo has angered tourist operators in Gozo, who last night commented with this paper that “enough is enough”.
Newly-elected President to the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA) Paul Scicluna told Business Today that the news is “shocking” and urged government to realise that Gozo is in dire need of an air-link with Malta.
“We have been waiting enough, and we shall not wait anymore as this situation is now too ridiculous,” he said, while adding that since the helicopter service was halted, “Gozo has been relegated to just a sea connection. We have moved back 20 years and certainly do not deserve to be left out in the cold this way,” said Paul Scicluna.