Sunday, October 05, 2014

Spanish fighter jets illegally invade British airspace over Gibraltar

The incident, being investigated by the Foreign Office, happened as the Monarch flight carrying passengers from Manchester was making its delicate approach on to the Rock, one of the world’s trickiest landings.

Last night a senior Tory MP called on Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond to send Spain’s Ambassador to Britain, Federico Trillo, “packing back to Madrid”.

The Sunday Express has learned the passenger jet’s captain reported seeing the two aircraft less than half a mile away and air traffic controllers at Gibraltar International Airport noticed “two dots” on their radar just before 10.30am on September 19.

Both jets, thought to be Eurofighter Typhoons, were clearly in Gibraltar airspace without permission but attempts to communicate with them were ignored.

Last night Gibraltar’s outraged government said the “intolerable” incident marked a new phase in Spain’s deliberate flouting of British sovereignty.

A government spokesman said: “Spanish vessels already regularly violate the sovereignty of our waters. It is intolerable that Spanish military aircraft are now not only infringing our airspace but also behaving in a reckless and dangerous manner.”

While no commercial airliner has ever crashed while landing at Gibraltar, it is widely regarded as having one of the world’s top 10 most challenging runways, with pilots having to contend with strong winds, the 1.400ft Rock of Gibraltar and the tight envelope of British airspace.

Last night retired pilot Chris Hammond said: “I used to go there quite regularly. It’s a restricted airfield, which means only specially cleared pilots are allowed to fly there.

“It presents a challenging approach, especially when wind conditions mean pilots have to make an easterly approach.

“You need to go inside the harbor and only half if it is British airspace and you are not allowed to stray into Spanish airspace. Then you have to make a last-minute sharp 90 degree turn to the right. That happened less than a mile and half from landing.

“All your attention is focused on the approach and the last thing you need is to see two unexpected jets where they’re not supposed to be. The real question in the pilot’s mind would have been what they were going to do next.”

Andrew Rosindell MP, chairman of the parliamentary Overseas Territory group, said: “My committee is completely shocked by the weakness of the Foreign Office in addressing the Spanish issue and its failure to tackle what Madrid is doing. We are pussyfooting around while Spain is running rings around us. It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion.

“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in Nato, yet they think it’s fine to enter British airspace illegally and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.

“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time we showed we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”

Mr Trillo, Spain’s ambassador to Britain since 2012, has been formally summoned to the Foreign Office on three occasions in the past 12 months over repeated Spanish incursions into British waters around Gibraltar and massive delays for drivers at the border caused by heavy-handed Spanish frontier guards.

Last night a Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are aware of the incident on September 19. We are reassured that there was no risk to safety caused by the activity of the jets.

“We are continuing to examine the incident to ascertain whether it was within the lawful right of passage.”

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