Lunch leaves plane up in air

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A BRITISH Airways aircraft carrying 55 passengers circled above an airport on a remote Hebridean island for an extra half hour while the local air traffic controller ate her lunch.

The pilot had no alternative but to wait for the controller to return to her radar screen after finishing her tea and sandwiches.

Families and friends waiting in the terminal building on Benbecula in the Western Isles, watched as the aircraft, belonging to British Regional Airways, a subsidiary of BA, came within view on its flight from Glasgow.

When rumours started circulating that the controller was having lunch they contacted Bob Macleod, chief executive of Highlands and Islands Airports (HIA).

The flight - which had already been delayed because of an electrical fault - finally touched down 55 minutes late at 12.55pm on Friday.

HIA, which is owned by the Scottish Office, yesterday confirmed that the controller had indeed been having lunch, but stressed that the problem had nothing to do with the size of her appetite.

The reason, the company explained, was that National Air Traffic Services rules forbid any controller from working more than two hours without taking a break.

A company statement said: "The air traffic controller at Benbecula realised that she could not legally extend her hours further without a break and timeously notified the west coast air traffic controller accordingly.

"With the aircraft from Glasgow already running late, this meant that it had to enter a holding pattern until air traffic control cover at Benbecula could be restored."

The company apologised to the passengers, saying that the reason behind the problem was a worldwide shortage of qualified air traffic controllers.

The remote airport has only one controller, although a local man is understood to be qualifying shortly.