Gibraltar has no airspace, says air control tower

A month-long PANORAMA investigation has elicited that

(1) The Gibraltar air control tower says that Gibraltar has no airspace,

(2) Seville Air Traffic Control, which handles the last lap to Gibraltar, have been given new instructions which affect Gibraltar,

(3) Suddenly, Foreign Office circles are saying that the term Gibraltar Airspace is a misnomer, and

(4) Other official sources say that what Gibraltar has is 'uncontrolled airspace'.

We have been asking a straightforward question, but have not been getting a straightforward answer to:


What follows are aspects of the beginning and the end of our investigation:

About a month ago we received a copy of a transcript:

At 10.40 on Wednesday 10 June the following took place:

-Gibraltar Approach to Monarch: Proceed south, we have aircraft on the approach flying at 500 feet. I want to find out his intentions.

- Monarch to Gibraltar Approach: Has he left your airspace?

- Gibraltar Approach: We have no airspace.

The surprising notion that Gibraltar should have no airspace prompted us to refer the matter to the Command British Forces, as Gibraltar's air controllers are employed by the MOD.

We asked: Could you advise the official position regarding airspace?

That was 17 June. When we again asked about it, we were told that the answer was covered in the "new Civil Aviation Act", and that the question had been passed to the Director of Civil Aviation. The HQBF were not sure if the answer would come via them or direct to me. That was 18 June.

On 19 June we wrote: Nothing received. Can we have the contact details so that we can follow this up directly?

It seemed that something strange was going on - and it was! It so happens that our question was bouncing from one office to another in the highest echelons of power.

We will not go into every detail, but will say that The Convent felt it corresponded to No.6 Convent Place to answer the question. When nothing was forthcoming, we ourselves contacted No. 6 and were told that it was for The Convent/MOD to answer the question.

When we asked again for an answer to our straightforward question we were eventually told that it would take a 60minute session to explain. We should meet with an RAF expert.

We kept asking and we were told that "there is no international concept of sovereignty when airspace is concerned." That the term 'British airspace' is a misnomer.

That was last Friday, when it so happens that the House of Commons defence committee issued a report (unrelated to Gibraltar) urging that the UK should take a more robust stance on what was being described as 'British airspace' and as 'British territorial airspace'. Since there is also Spanish airspace, are we being told that only Gibraltar has no airspace?

We subsequently extracted the answer that what Gibraltar has is 'uncontrolled G airspace', but the source was not too sure what it meant.

Britain's Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says: "In uncontrolled no-radar airspace, pilots can communicate with each other via air-to-air to maintain separation..."

UK Flight Information Services, referring to 'flights outside controlled airspace', states: "Within Class F and G airspace, regardless of the service being provided, pilots are ultimately responsible for collision avoidance and terrain.

As stated in a report in the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) - in uncontrolled airspace, pilots are essentially on their own.

NATS, who had their air traffic control contract with the MOD extended in January this year, say that in areas designated 'controlled airspace' aircraft fly under the supervision of air traffic controllers...but outside controlled airspace pilots take full responsibility for their own safety although they can ask for assistance.

After the Gibraltar Government announced last year that it would be passing a new Civil Aviation Act, there was much upset in the Spanish Foreign Ministry. There are suggestions in Spain that Seville air traffic control, which handles the last lap of the approach to Gibraltar by aircraft, have been instructed to make changes to the services provided to Gibraltar.

On 12 March new arrangements were announced in the UK as regards air traffic services outside controlled airspace.

That same day, say informed Spanish air traffic control sources, Gibraltar started supplying three new types of air traffic control services in the uncontrolled G airspace up to 40 miles from the Rock in 'Spanish airspace'. It is said this was implemented unilaterally.

A document in the Spanish Foreign Ministry says that Spain did not cede to Britain the isthmus, the territorial waters nor the corresponding air space.

Industry sources here indicate that the sovereignty of terrestrial and territorial waters determine air sovereignty, thus airspace.

Could it be that Gibraltar has controlled and uncontrolled airspace depending at what height the aircraft is - or is Spain challenging our airspace as well. Why cannot we have a straightforward answer to a straightforward question?