The Government is considering a number of options to make the Gozo runway more accessible to ultra-lights in the short-term as well as to the planes used by flying schools in the medium-term, according to sources who attended a consultation meeting at the Tourism Ministry.

The first step will be to create an additional helipad off the existing 180m runway, to serve as a parking space for helicopters, freeing up space on the runway which can then be used by the 30 local ultra-lights as well as by any visiting ones in the future.

Parking will also be made available for the ultra-lights off the runway so that their users would be able to leave their aircraft there and visit Gozo. The AFM helicopters will always take priority, but the works – which can be completed in a very short time at minimal cost – would reduce ultra-lights’ dependence on Malta International Airport, while promoting Gozo as a destination for both locals and tourists.

The Government also favours more aviation activity, and is seriously considering the creation of a new 400m or 650m strip, possibly a grass strip, lying at a slight angle adjacent to the existing one which would be more suited to the prevailing winds. This could be used by the 20 planes belonging to the six flying schools operating in Malta, which would also pave the way for more to open up, given the success that this sector has had in just a few years.

“The flying schools do several landings as part of their pilot training – known as touch-and-go – but the number that they can do at MIA is limited because of commercial aircraft. If we were to create another strip the majority of these training landings could be done there, for a minimal fee, greatly easing congestion at MIA,” the sources said.

“A 650m runway could be used by any of the fixed-wing private operators who want to offer transfers from the Malta airport, perhaps in the future even direct from neighbouring countries. History has shown that helicopter operations are not economically feasible because of the much higher costs involved, and we believe that another runway would be a better option,” they said, adding that over the years many feasibility studies were submitted by these operators to prove the viability of flights that would improve access to Gozo.

The Government is considering an unlicensed airstrip to keep things simple for all concerned, nonetheless under the super-vision of the relative authorities.

“We are very sensitive to the community that lives around there and are looking for options that would cause minimal disruption. For example, only day operations are being considered, with time bans in place in case of training flights,” he said.

Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella, whose remit includes the drawing up of the Government’s aviation policy, is visiting Gozo in the coming days, and will also be meeting his colleague Gozo Minister Anton Refalo to assess the options.

The possibility of an airstrip in Gozo has been on the table since Malta Air Charter – which was heavily subsidised by Air Malta – ceased operations. The heliport has been virtually deserted since then.

For some time a seaplane also operated to Gozo, but this service was stopped a few years ago.

vanessa.macdonald@timesofmalta.com

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