Sant predicts failed Gozo air service only presages more construction

Former Labour PM who stopped Gozo airstrip as first course of action upon 1996 election says fixed-wing air travel to island is not commercially feasible

Labour MEP Alfred Sant
Labour MEP Alfred Sant

Labour MEP and former prime minister Alfred Sant – famously putting a stop to the Gozo airstrip as one of his actions upon election in 1996 – has kept up his opposition to the extension of the runway.

Sant said he was surprised at the support for the airstrip from the business community. “In no way can I see how fixed-wing trips, with a regular schedule or not, for passegers from Malta to Gozo, can be commercially viable.”

Sant said that the prospect of a viable fixed-wing service was even less credible than the prospect that a fast-ferry service between Malta and Gozo shared between two competing operators, could deliver a profit.

“The fact that this project is allowed to fail, if it ever even gets off the ground, is being ignored by all and sundry,” Sant said on his Facebook page.

“In the meantime, more Gozitan countryside will be gobbled up and destroyed before this project finally collapses, so that eventually some residential block, some commercial project is built around it, and a thousands more requests from Ċikku and Peppi to take their slice of this agricultural land to build upon.

“Not to forget the construction barons! Gozo deserves more respect.”

Controversially, the Environment and Resources Authority has exempted the proposed “rural airfield” in Xewkija in Gozo from the need of a full Environment Impact Assessment (EIA), after concluding that the impacts of the development are unlikely to be significant to the point of warranting such a study.

Instead of seeking an EIA on the introduction of the fixed-wing service and extension of the airfield, it has called for a separate study on the airfield’s noise impact.

The Planning Authority has requested the Gozo Ministry to prepare a Social Impact Assessment (SIA) on the impact of the proposed airstrip.

The EIA waiver will facilitate the Gozo ministry’s 2023 deadline for the completion of the project, which has only had preliminary studies that fall short of an EIA, whose terms must be drafted in a public consultation of residents and NGOs.

The existing Ta’ Lambert runway will be extended from its current 174 metres, to a total length of 445m and a safety area of 30m on each end of the airstrip.

The ERA said the upgrade and extension of the runway and the construction of the aprons will take up an approximate area of 40,000sq.m, which is currently covered by soil. Around 6,000 cubic metres of topsoil will be excavated, and partly re-used on site and for nearby agricultural land.

The Gozo Ministry says any provider will be “encouraged” to adopt an all-electric fleet by 2025, a specification that will be included in the tender. But plans also foresee an open-air, small-scale fuelling depot by the general aviation aircraft.

The proposed airstrip is located in an Archaeologically Sensitive Area where cart ruts have been recorded 24 metres away from the site in question. Given the archaeological sensitivity of the area, the Superintendence for Cultural Heritage has called for the soil-covered areas to be archaeologically evaluated before any planning decisions are taken.