Thursday, 4 July 2013

Spanish planes 'buzz' Gibraltar, Government demands action, MoD denies incursion

Matador aircraft
GIBRALTAR (GibChronicle / Brian Reyes) Britain and Spain faced another round of diplomatic tension last night after four Spanish jets “buzzed” the Rock yesterday, causing delay to a commercial flight. Eyewitnesses said the Matador jets flew in from behind Los Barrios and very close to the north end of the Rock. But Britain’s Ministry of Defence played down the incident and insisted there was no evidence to suggest the Spanish planes entered Gibraltar airspace. Either way, the planes flew close enough to generate alarm and prompt an angry response from the Gibraltar Government. “The Government of Gibraltar has called on the UK to take up the matter of this military incursion into the airspace of Gibraltar at the highest diplomatic and military levels,” No.6 Convent Place said in a statement. British officials in the Convent have already taken up the matter, but there are conflicting reports.>>>
Two versions
Officials believe Spanish military assets operating in the area are increasingly approaching the Rock to “clip the edges” of Gibraltar’s territorial jurisdiction and make their presence felt. The concern is that yesterday’s incident was an aerial version of Spanish incursions detected at sea. “They were buzzing us,” one source said.

The second version of yesterday’s incident, however, is that it was the innocent by-product of a Spanish military exercise in the Strait of Gibraltar, and that there was no incursion. 
The four planes – the Spanish version of the Harrier jet – were flying back to the Spanish aircraft carrier Juan Carlos I, which was on a training exercise about 10 miles south-east off the Rock.

The jets approached the Rock from the north-west before turning east out into the Mediterranean and south toward the ship. One source described this as “last-minute avoiding action”.

BA flight delayed
On the tarmac in Gibraltar, the outbound British Airways flight was delayed by 12 minutes.

The Gibraltar Government claimed that the Spanish planes did not contact air traffic control in Gibraltar. 
Likewise, No.6 Convent Place added that Seville controllers did not warn their Gibraltar counterparts of the jets’ approach.

But that was at odds with the account provided by the MoD, which has ultimate responsibility for air traffic control here. In a statement, Headquarters British Forces said the BA flight was “…held on the runway for approximately 12 minutes by Air Traffic Control in Seville to allow Spanish aircraft to pass by in Spanish air space.”

“There is no evidence to suggest that the aircraft flew 
into Gibraltar air space,” it added.

Full press release from No 6
On Wednesday morning, four ‘Matador’ aircraft of the Spanish Air Force entered Gibraltar’s airspace from the north-west. It is believed that the aircraft were flying towards the Juan Carlos 1 aircraft carrier which, at the time, was about 12 nautical miles south-east of the Rock. At no time did the aircraft make contact with Gibraltar’s air-traffic control and the Spanish air-traffic authorities in Seville gave no warning of the aircrafts’ approach. However, Seville then held back the outgoing BA flight for 12 minutes at Gibraltar airport until it was safe for it to take off.
HM Government of Gibraltar has called on the UK to take up the matter of this military incursion into the airspace of Gibraltar at the highest diplomatic and military levels.

Ministry of Defense Denial
The Ministry of Defense in Gibraltar yesterday denied that the Spanish jets had flown over Gib air space, as No. 6 Convent Place had claimed, thus contradicting Chief Minister Fabian Picardo. A press release from the MoD said that there was no evidence to suggest the incursion, adding that at about 11.00 a British Airways flight was retained for twelve minutes by Air Traffic Control in Sevilla to allow the Spanish planes through. The planes were heading back to the Juan Carlos I aircraft carrier that was operating some ten nautical miles from the Rock. The pres release also announced the arrival of HMS Talent, a nuclear submarine, to Gibraltar.

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