This Thursday, October 13, the NATO forces currently crowding the airport of Trapani-Birgi, in Sicily, will have to leave after the italian government delivered a rather infamous notice to quit to the allies. The reason, quite simply, is that Trapani-Birgi is both a military base and a civilian airport, and the agreement for NATO use forced the temporary termination of civilian traffic on the runway.
Reportedly, the local administration is concerned by losses for the local economy, heavily dependent on tourism, which has been severely damaged (up to 10 million euro of damage as of recent estimates) by the interruption in the flow of planes loaded with tourists flocking onto Birgi. Differently from Hotels and shops around Gioia del Colle, which are all too happy to make money on the sizeable RAF presence in the area, the 200 men based at Trapani do not have as much of a good impact for the economy: too few to make up for the lack of tourists and for the runway fees that civilian companies used to pay to the local administration.
Ryanair, the air company which used the runway the most, has been making pressure for all this time to obtain the re-opening of the base to civilian usage.
And so the RAF, which on Trapani Birgi bases some 200 men supporting its deployed force of VC10 air tankers and E3D Sentry AWACS planes, will now have to leave, and relocate somewhere else, possibly Cagliari Elmas, or Decimomannu, both in Sardinia, with evident issues and new costs to be faced.
As Italian, i can only express my embarrassment for yet another shameful decision which makes things harder for our allies.
At the same time, i can only underline, once more, that this is the issue with having to depend on foreign countries and governments for getting an air base for operations.
Nations do not have friends. They only have interests. And this makes things harder and always ensures that uncertainty is part of the picture.
Malta has insisted to stay out of the Libyan matter, Cyprus asked for the RAF not to base combat airplanes in Akrotiri for Libya ops, even Italy itself has been an issue in providing bases, from the very start of the operations.
So much for your "we currently have all airbase support abroad that we need"...!