Portugal’s pilots have this week warned that the landing strip at Montijo air base south of the Tagus is not an alternative to Lisbon airport for long-haul flights should the deactivation of one of Lisbon’s two runways go ahead.
The alert comes after national airport management company ANA, which was acquired by French group Vinci in 2013, unveiled its expansion plan for Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport and which foresees the closure of runway 17/35 to make room for a hub and increased aircraft parking.
Pilots and sources close to proceedings told Lusa News Agency this week that “the government is absolutely aware that Montijo’s runway 01/19, upon closing Lisbon’s 17/35, is not an alternative for long-haul flights as it is too short, it doesn’t have the proper radio support to permit landings with instruments, and the surfacing might not be resistant enough for large aircraft.”
Miguel Silveira, president of the Portuguese Airline Pilots’ Association (APPLA), also said that at least 25 percent of annual winds that cause windshear and severe turbulence during the final stages of landing, make Lisbon’s runway 17/35 “the most appropriate for landings” for safety reasons.
“For three to four months of the year, for safety reasons, due to moderate to severe atmospheric phenomena, runway 17/35 is the best for landing and not 03/21 [Lisbon’s other runway], which is normally used”, Silveira said.
Should the deactivation of Lisbon airport’s runway 17/35 go ahead, during those three or four months of the year, long-haul aircraft will not be able to land at Montijo as an option and would instead have to divert to the nearest alternative runways, which are Porto and Faro.
Miguel Silveira stressed that Montijo’s current runway, in terms of size and resistance, could only accommodate short and medium-haul aircraft up to the Airbus A-321 or Boeing 737s.
“All long-haul traffic, in other words all A330s, A340s, and Boeing 777s, 767 or 757s, would not be able to use Montijo as an alternative during those months should they close runway 17/35 in Lisbon”, he summarised, emphasising that Montijo’s runway 01/19 “is far from having the characteristics” of Lisbon’s 17/35.
Should a suitable solution not be found, which could include the construction of a new runway at Montijo, the head of the APPLA believes it is necessary to “work closely” with pilots.
“Otherwise measures will have to be taken, at an increase in cost for companies and a change in operational proceedings for pilots as far as Lisbon airport is concerned, so that when flights cannot land in Lisbon, they are prepared to divert to an alternative airport, which could be either Porto or Faro”, he said.
The pilots’ representative conveyed these concerns to the Secretary of State for Infrastructures, Guilherme d’Oliveira Martins, during a meeting held last Friday.
Miguel Silveira said that he had received a guarantee that this process will be done “over an extended period” and that the APPLA “will be heard at all times”.
The pilots’ association described the meeting as “very positive” and said that the Secretary of State for Infrastructures indicated that the memorandum of understanding between the Government and ANA, which was to be signed on Wednesday this week, is “extremely generalised” and does not specify the deactivation of runway 17/35.
“The closure of runway 17/35 is not explicit, but we know it is implied. There is a need for growth at Lisbon airport, but the growth of any airport should only be within reasonable limits to ensure flight safety conditions”, Silveira argued.
Lusa contacted ANA with regard to this matter, but no response had been received at the time of going to press.
On September 23, 2015, ANA revealed that it was studying the possibility of developing an airport in Montijo and planning the future operational design of Lisbon airport, which included the possibility of closing runway 17/35.