The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

Gozo Airstrip – Down to specifics

Malta Independent Sunday, 7 March 2010, 00:00 Last update: about 5 years ago

Since it seems that the debate about the proposed Gozo airstrip has somehow been revived with some vigour, then it would presumably be in order for me to take you on a virtual tour of some airstrips that can be found on some of the islands in the Caribbean Sea and Aegean Sea.Since it seems that the debate about the proposed Gozo airstrip has somehow been revived with some vigour, then it would presumably be in order for me to take you on a virtual tour of some airstrips that can be found on some of the islands in the Caribbean Sea and Aegean Sea.

Some of these islands are actually smaller than Gozo and are regarded as being some of the most idyllic places in the world. Although referred to as ‘airports’ these installations are nothing more than simple ‘airstrips’ that blend well with the surrounding landscape and take away nothing of the beauty, character and charm of these islands. Yet they provide an essential link to the islanders and significantly contribute to the economic prosperity of the population, with negligible impact on the environment and landscape.

Saba Island - shortest runway

The island of Saba, in the Caribbean Sea, has the honour of claiming that it has the shortest runway in commercial use. With a superficial area of just 13 square kilometres (less than a quarter the size of Gozo) Saba is the smallest island in the archipelago of the Netherlands Antilles and has a population of just 1,500. It is estimated that around 25,000 tourists visit the island annually.

Known by the rather grandiose name of Juancho E. Yrausquin Airport, the airstrip has a single 1,300ft (396 metre) runway strip at an elevation of 60ft above sea level, wedged on the mountainside that drops steeply into the ocean. The standing joke is that the official name of the airport is longer than the runway!

There is a small ramp and terminal on the south side of the runway. The ramp also has a designated helipad. There is a small terminal building, with offices for immigration and security, a fire department with one fire truck, and a control tower. The tower is an advisory service only and does not provide air traffic control. Aviation fuel is not available on the island of Saba.

The airstrip is used by DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft of Windward Island Airways to connect Saba daily with the islands of St Maarten, St Eustatius and St Kitts. The flight to St Maarten takes only 12 minutes.

St Barts Airport

St Barthelemy Airport, officially named as Gustaf III Airport (ICAO: TFFJ) is the only aerial gateway to the island of Saint Barthelemy, whose main town, Gustavia, and airport are named for King Gustav III of Sweden, from whom the French bought back the island in 1878. About 7,000 inhabitants populate this little island, which has a superficial area of just 21 square kilometres –about a third of Gozo’s area.

The airport is served by small regional commercial aircraft and charters. Most visiting aircraft carry fewer than 20 passengers, such as the DHC-6 Twin Otter, a common sight around St Barts and throughout the Caribbean Islands. The relatively short airstrip of 600 metres is at the base of a gentle slope ending directly on the beach.

The arrival descent is extremely steep over the hilltop traffic circle and departing planes fly right over the heads of sunbathers (although small signs advise sunbathers not to lie directly at the end of the runway). The airport is used by five different small regional airlines to connect St Barts with five other Caribbean islands.

Notwithstanding the presence of an airstrip on the island, St Barts is described in tourist brochures as “definitely upscale, and a favourite of the rich and famous. The island is chic and simply stunning. Gustavia, a duty-free port, is a picturesque place of red-roofed buildings, boutiques, a yacht-filled harbour and a very relaxed lifestyle.”

Montserrat

Montserrat is a British Overseas Territory located in the Leeward Islands forming part of the chain of islands called the Lesser Antilles, situated in the Caribbean Sea. It has a superficial area of 102 square kilometres (about 60 per cent larger than Gozo) with a population of 6,000.

The old WH Bramble airport, with its 1,030-metre runway, was abandoned after it was completely destroyed and buried under ash following the eruption of Soufriere Hills volcano in 1997. For approximately eight years, the island could only be reached by means of a ferry service or helicopter air link until the new airport on the northern coast of the island was commissioned in July 2005.

By 2008, the new airport had been dedicated to John A. Osborne (ICAO: TRPG) the longstanding chief minister of Montserrat. The airport has a single 600-metre runway, still with a 10/28 orientation. Curiously, it is the only airport in the Caribbean with a public tunnel passing under the runway. The airport is used by at least two small regional airlines using propeller driven aircraft and cost about $18 million to complete.

Sint Eustatius

With a superficial area of just 21 square kilometres, the island of Sint Eustatius forms part of the Netherlands Antilles archipelago. The population of just 3,000 can rest assured of an aerial gateway by means of the small airport (ICAO: TNCE) dedicated to the memory of Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was president of the USA at the time the original military airfield was constructed in 1942.

Today, this important airfield has a runway strip 1,030 metres long and 30 metres wide, with an orientation of 06/24 at an elevation of 129 feet above sea level. As part of its initiatives to facilitate transport links and promote growth in tourism, the local government is planning to upgrade the existing airport infrastructure.

Aegean Sea islands

A quick look at the atlas reveals that the Aegean Sea is cluttered with hundreds of small islands – most of them inhabited but of great military strategic value. The larger inhabited islands earn economic prosperity by attracting tourists. There is a well-developed network of ferry connections, but air transport is considered a vital node in the communications web spread across most islands.

Kastelorizo

A Greek island located a few miles off the Turkish coast, Kastelorizo island has a superficial area of just 12 square kilometres and is home to a small population of just 550.

Although so small in size, Kastelorizo island is served by an airstrip (ICAO: LGKJ) with a runway 850 metres long situated at an elevation of 375 feet above sea level. About 10,000 passengers were recorded during the year 2007.

Kasos

At 49 square kilometres, the island of Kasos is one of the smallest of the Greek Islands, being home to a population of about 1,000. The island is well served with an airstrip with a runway length of 982 metres

Naxos

The airfield serving the island of Naxos (ICAO: LGNX) is located at sea level and has a runway strip of 802 metres. In 2007, about 24,000 passengers were recorded as having used this airstrip.

Leros

At 75 square kilometres, Leros is slightly bigger than Gozo and home to around 10,000 people. The island is adequately served by an airstrip (ICAO: LGLE), which has a runway strip 1,012 metres long. In 2007, the airstrip on Leros recorded 1,256 aircraft movements with 28,365 passengers and 17 tons of cargo.

The eight airstrips described have been selected as examples of airstrips with short runways located on small islands, some even smaller than Gozo! They are all vital nodes in the transport network connecting these islands to the outer world. Although in most of these airstrips the level of traffic is much smaller than the predicted level of traffic that can be generated from an airstrip on Gozo, they are kept open because they provide an essential link, without which the economic prosperity of the islanders would take a serious dip.

Rod Abela

Secretary

Aero Club Malta

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