Gibraltar accuses Spain of violating its airspace and ‘deliberately causing problems’

The incident ‘takes the Spanish harassment of Gibraltar to new heights’, says Chief Minister Fabian Picardo

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The Independent Online

Gibraltar has accused Spain of “deliberately causing problems” after alleging that a Spanish aircraft violated its airspace. 

The P3 Orion controlled by military operators in Seville flew into the territory’s airspace on Friday shortly before noon, the British Overseas Territory's government said in a statement.

Although details of the flight had been passed on to Gibraltar’s air traffic controller, the government said the plane did not follow its “expected flight profile”. 

As a result, the aircraft was flagged as “unknown traffic” and the resulting confusion caused a British Airways aircraft scheduled to depart from Gibraltar at 11.50am to be delayed for eight minutes.

Chief Minister Fabian Picardo accused the Spanish military of using “politically-motivated manoeuvres” to interfere with the movement of a civilian aircraft. 

He said: “It is no secret that Spain has been deliberately causing problems for Gibraltar at our border and through its incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. 

“Today's incursion into Gibraltar’s airspace, in the middle of a busy day when several civilian flights were scheduled to arrive and depart from the Gibraltar International Airport takes the Spanish harassment of Gibraltar to new heights.”

Mr Picardo said it was “completely unacceptable that the Spanish military have interfered with the movement of civilian aircraft in this dangerous manner.”

He added: “Gibraltar International Airport is an extremely busy base for civilian passengers who are significant contributors to the tourism economy of the campo area.

“Delays caused by the politically-motivated manoeuvres of the Spanish military are intolerable, but thanks to the swift action of Gibraltar’s Air Traffic Control, delays were the only consequence." 

He added: “Today’s incident could have been much worse."

The Independent has contacted the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs for comment but none had arrived at the time of publication. 

The incident comes after EU draft guidelines for the UK’s Brexit negotiations indicated that a Brexit deal will not automatically apply to the Gibraltar – and that any deal could be vetoed by Spain.

​The territory, situated on the southern tip of Spain, has been in British hands for more than 300 years and residents there voted overwhelmingly in favour of remaining with the EU in the referendum by 96 per cent.