Too many documented delays to flights might reduce the attractiveness of the Falklands in terms of an airline considering providing an additional service to the Islands, acknowledged Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) Gavin Short this week.
When Penguin News asked MLA Short if it was realistic to pursue a second flight into the Falklands from South America, when the country was already suffering constant delays to the LATAM flight, he said: “It is a factor that must be very much kept in mind as commercial airlines will have to factor in the possibility of delays and too many documented delays due to rotor winds may not make this an attractive prospect.”
Delays to LATAM flights into Mount Pleasant have increased since the introduction by the Ministry of Defense (MoD) of a new method of predicting rotor winds. In the past the flight was rarely delayed, but in the last five consecutive delays, three were caused by rotor winds being predicted, one because the runway was not salted in snowy weather, and one due to snow in Santiago.
MLA Short did assure, however, that the MoD would be, “rerunning and re-examining both the model and the method of predicting the probability and time frames for rotor wind.”
Asked what progress had been made with the MoD to extend the weather windows for LATAM to land on the days they predicted the winds, MLA Short said: “We believe that MPA are doing their best to refine the predictions given for rotor winds, but it should also be noted that the Falklands leg of the flight is part of a scheduled service and any delay means that LATAM has to work the Falklands leg into a schedule
that is coming south. Sometimes if the weather warning is ending soon enough, the flight may wait in Punta but longer periods of adverse weather means that they cannot hold the flight.”
Asked if the Falklands Government considered it acceptable that the MoD appeared to have the airline over a barrel due to the new rulings MLA Short said: “This is a question that is best asked of LATAM. I believe that LATAM officials did visit the Falklands and were briefed on rotor winds. As this is a safety issue and is part of the MPA operations manual, it would be a brave pilot or operator who overruled such a weather warning.”
He also assured that after recent conversations with the Commander British Forces Falkland Islands, MPC was well aware of the impact that the issuing of a rotor winds warning had.
Penguin News had emphasized the impact the ongoing situation has on the morale of the population and the potential impact on the economy.
MLA Short also said that to his knowledge the Government was not subsidizing any of the costs that resulted from delays. In relation to a question on potential increased use of Stanley Airport he said the Chief Executive had been tasked to carry out two pieces of work: To ascertain what may be required to allow aero evacuations to take place from Stanley Airport and, to see what would be needed, and extremely rough costs, for upgrading Stanley Airport to allow it to accept larger airframes.
He said: “I believe there will be a paper coming to ExCo suggesting a way forward for these pieces of work as early as September.” At Legislative Assembly on Thursday MLA Michael Poole asked MLA Roger Edwards to describe the existing capability of Stanley Airport to accept international flights; and whether there was any intention to potentially expand that capability in the future.
MLA Edwards said the Civil Aviation Department had issued Stanley Airport with a certificate under the Overseas Territories Aviation Requirements (OTARs) in February 2015. The certificate allowed the airport to handle international flights as well as other types of commercial operations such as the recent hydrocarbons-related helicopter activity.
The airport is equipped and staffed with rescue and fire fighting capabilities equivalent to category 3 according to the international standards. Therefore the airport cannot allow aircraft larger than rescue and fire fighting category 3. The other factor that affects the aircraft that the airport can accept is the amount of runway required.
He explained that the majority of small aircraft that visit the Islands on a regular basis, for example for air ambulance flights, are of a size acceptable for the airport’s fire fighting capabilities, but require more physical runway than the airport can offer.
There is not a set rule for this according to the size of the runway; within reason it is up to the aircraft operator to determine if they can effectively use a runway of any given dimensions.
The air ambulance operators that regularly service the Islands have recently indicated that they generally don’t operate aircraft that could utilize Stanley Airport.
MLA Phyl Rendell welcomed the paper saying it was important for the public to understand the facts, “and it is not as easy as just switching effort into Stanley airport. It would inevitably cost possibly millions. Is that what we really want?” (Penguin News).