The president of the National Civil Aviation Authority (ANAC) Luís Ribeiro said last week that he understands the complaints made by businessmen when Madeira’s airport becomes inoperable due to high winds. However, he has said that that he will not jeopardise the safety of aircraft or passengers by altering the maximum wind speeds at the island’s airport.
In a statement he said that he ‘understands people’s frustration, especially those connected to the tourism sector; however, the winds around the airport have changed. However, ‘the rules have not changed’ and what has happened is that in the last two years (2017 and 2018) the airport has been inoperable due to a higher percentage of days where wind speeds exceeded the maximum safety speed allowed.
Last Thursday, at the opening speech of the 45th Congress of the Portuguese Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies (APAVT), in Funchal, the president of ANAC, Pedro Costa Ferreira, said that Madeira has ‘a problem’ with airport downtime that is playing havoc with tourism industry leaders confidence, which in turn, is resulting in the reduction in the number of flights to Madeira. A situation which is inexpiable given that both airport and aircraft landing technology has vastly improved; and that the current situation is causing ‘unimaginable and incalculable damage.’
In response to this, ANAC’s president stressed that ‘the issues could not be seen in this simple way. The problem with this particular airport is the sudden changes in wind intensity and direction. This is what makes approaching this airport ‘particularly dangerous,’ he explained, noting that it is primarily the manufacturers who set wind limits for aircraft, and then the companies in their operating manuals set other limits that usually, are slightly more demanding than those of the manufacturer itself. ‘Then there are exceptional cases where the regulator himself imposes another kind of limits,’ he said.
According to Luís Ribeiro, situations such as those already registered at Madeira’s airport can ‘happen again’, because these phenomena ‘are unpredictable’ and that, even the working group who are studying the situation and include technicians from the Portuguese Institute of Mar and Atmosphere, do not know if they are facing a trend or atypical years.’
‘What we have to do is relatively well defined, which is to use new technologies to mitigate the impacts of this phenomenon, to ensure that airport operating conditions are perfectly safe. This, is our priority, and we are not going to do anything that is a risk to civil aviation safety,’ said the head of ANAC. He added that the working group is continuing its investigations and will help develop new technology and instruments to measure air turbulence in real-time.
Luís Ribeiro told reporters that, in addition to the work done by the working group, in conjunction with the IPMA and airlines, further testing has been undertaken using an Airbus 321 Neo. However, after having completed fifteen landing approaches the aircraft had to have its landing gear replaced due to wind stress. Which says Luís Ribeiro, makes it imperative that technology and instruments are installed at the airport that will record weather conditions including air turbulence accurately and quickly.
The president of ANAC admits that if they achieve this they will be able to ‘reduce to some extent the downtime of the airport’, however he said ‘let’s not be mistaken, the winds will not disappear, all that we will be able to do is measure more efficiently and more accurately the precise conditions facing pilots at any particular time.’
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