REPORTS have emerged of an incident over British Gibraltar airspace last month when Spanish fighter jets were reported to have flown dangerously close to a British passenger plane.
According to the Sunday Express the incident, which occurred at around 10.30am on September 19, involved two Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons which entered British airspace to fly past the Monarch airliner as it was preparing for the tricky landing onto Gibraltarian soil.
The Monarch flight was arriving from Manchester and carrying passengers. Its captain reported seeing two aircrafts no more than half a mile away, and Gibraltar’s Air Traffic Controllers also reported seeing two dots on their radar at the time of the incident. Attempts to communicate with the jets were unsuccessful.
The Rock’s runway is thought by many experienced pilots to be one of the trickiest in the world to navigate, and fighter jets appearing out of nowhere is the last thing that a pilot preparing to land wants to see.
As details of the incident emerged over the weekend, Gibraltar’s government is said to be furious over what it interprets as repeated challenges to British sovereignty over the Rock.
A government spokesman said: “Spanish vessels already regularly violate the sovereignty of our waters. It is intolerable that Spanish military aircraft are now not only infringing our airspace but also behaving in a reckless and dangerous manner.”
There have been calls for Philip Hammond, British Foreign Secretary, to formally summon Spanish Ambassador Federico Trillo to account for the situation. Trillo has already been asked to attend the Foreign Office three times in the last year.
Chairman of the Parliamentary Overseas Territory group and senior Tory politiciain Andrew Rosindell MP has called on the Foreign Secretary to send Trillo back to Spain.
He said: “My committee is completely shocked by the weakness of the Foreign Office in addressing the Spanish issue and its failure to tackle what Madrid is doing. We are pussyfooting around while Spain is running rings around us. It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion.”
“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in NATO, yet they think it’s fine to enter British airspace illegally and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.”
“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time we showed we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”
Further details, together with the official Spanish version of the events, is yet to be released.
The Foreign Office has said that they are investigating the incident. A spokesperson said: “We are aware of the incident on September 19. We are reassured that there was no risk to safety caused by the activity of the jets.”
“We are continuing to examine the incident to ascertain whether it was within the lawful rite of passage.”