REVEALED: MOD and Govt hold talks - PEDESTRIANS: To cross or not to cross runway?

REVEALED: MOD and Govt hold talksĀ 

PEDESTRIANS: To cross or not to cross runway?

We can reveal that the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and the Government of Gibraltar (GOG) are engaged in confidential discussions to determine the future of pedestrian traffic across the runway once the airport tunnel is fully operational.

It was always a foregone conclusion with the MOD in London that the oddity of having a road cutting across the runway should cease, given that the Government of Gibraltar was spending millions to provide an airport tunnel for vehicular traffic AND pedestrians. Indeed, when a UK armed forces minister visited Gibraltar in November 2017 he made the point that the whole area in question is a military airfield. That, in fact, is the case, and from it flowed the realisation that the obvious conclusion was that all traffic, vehicular and pedestrians, would cease to cross the runway once the airport tunnel was operational, as it made little sense to have built an airport tunnel with provision for pedestrians.
It was the view held in London at the time. Otherwise, if pedestrians kept crossing the runway, the MOD would have to retain present services on a 24-hourly basis at each end of the runway road, as well as other services, all of which may not be cost effective, as a viable alternative would be in place. The runway road would be available only for emergency services as exit and entry points to the airfield, if and when required.
It is a fact that the airfield is managed by the RAF who coordinate all of Gibraltar's air traffic, including civilian flights.
The UK Strategic Command, which is part of the MOD, has this to say:
"RAF personnel are also responsible for making sure the runway is checked for Foreign Object Debris (or FOD) every time it is used. This is extremely important, as even a small piece of FOD could cause serious damage to an aircraft, putting the passengers and crew at risk. But having a road running through it isn't the only special thing about the Gibraltar runway, as it also extends out into the sea with a third of its total length being built into the water."
The airfield traffic arrangements as they stand today, such as having a main roadway crossing the runway, have contributed to the airport gaining the appelative of being regarded as one of the world's most dangerous.
However. given the excellent procedures in place by the MOD and the Gibraltar Defence Police, over so many years, this has been a very safe airfield, considering it handles both commercial and military air traffic - but with the prospect of an EU treaty and the fading of pandemic, traffic in the air and on the ground is bound to increase, adding weight against the suggestion that pedestrians should carry on crossing the runway regardless, when there will be an alternative in place once the airport tunnel becomes operational.
However, with the passage of time given the delays in completing the airport tunnel and associated facilities, positions may well have been changing but it is not clear to what extent. It is said that at one point the then Gibraltar government accepted that all traffic should cease using the runway road, but the present position is that the Government appears inclined to defend the continuation of pedestrians crossing the runway.
With the military agreeing to talk, the local MOD position appears to be softening, and as a result discussions are in progress, which does not necessarily mean that full agreement, or any agreement, will be reached.
I asked both the Government of Gibraltar and the Ministry of Defence about the current situation.
GOG said this: "We continue to work with the MOD to keep pedestrian access through the runway open. An announcement will be made as soon as possible."
And an MOD spokesperson said this: "MOD Gibraltar is working with all appropriate stakeholders to fully consider the possibility of continued access across Winston Churchill Avenue once the airport tunnel opens, taking into account all the risks and other factors."
The MOD Gibraltar take cover by referring to 'all the risks and other factors' which must be taken into account. But has their position mellowed? It could be that an influencing factor is that MOD services, including living quarters, have moved in large numbers to the northern side of the runway and that stopping pedestrians crossing the runway would affect them. But it remains to be seen if the position held by MOD UK differs, in substance, to that held by MOD Gibraltar.
As regards pedestrians who want to carry on crossing the runway, an olive branch could be a frequent bus shuttle service, from the frontier to the city centre, as happens in other similar situations elsewhere in the world.
The discussions are ongoing and different options are being considered. Would it be possible to allow pedestrians to cross the runway but at certain specific times only? There are many imponderables associated with such a solution.
And the MOD refer to taking account of 'all the risks and other factors', which cover a multitude of things.