Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Operating from someone else's base

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"...!


  1. Hi gabby,

    What's the Italian governments 'angle' why the less than full support? I know some had a leaning towards Gaddafi. Is that what it is, a chance to get back as some were never that keen in the first place?


  2. You make me a question to which i'll hardly be able to give a complete and accurate answer, as of course, these political angles are murky even for government officers themselves...!

    However. Italy had love-hate relationship with Gaddafi. We had struck a deal costing us billions to "repay" them colonial damages (bullshit...) by building a major hospital and a Pharaohnic motorway on the coast, but we also got some sweeteners: excellent contracts for gas and oil for ENI, our major industry of the sector, and a major agreement aiming to stop the terrifying issues of clandestine immigration that Italy has been struggling with for years.

    These are the two main reasons why effectively Italy never was, and never will be, that thrilled with this intervention. For once, it was the Left party which argued to go to war (of course for humanitarian reasons in their words), why the ruling, Right party would have gladly had things continuing the way they were going.

    As a matter of fact, Italy could have well been even less supportive of the ops, hadn't the ruling party majority in parliament been a bit weak for playing macho and going against NATO, ONU and opposition at once.
    Besides. NATO's reshuffle in the Command Posts in Europe (you've probably heard that even Northwood in the UK risked being closed, before being confirmed) menaced to have some bases in Italy closed, so our warm participation was a way to obtain survival of NATO structures in Naples and elsewhere.

    These are the "evident" reasons. There are of course, i'm sure you can imagine, reasons we'll never know at all, too, very likely if not certainly.

  3. Thanks I thought it was something along those lines. Yes I had forgotten about the NATO reshuffle, quite a lot of posts still in Naples, in what I understand is quite a poor area. I can see they would be keen to hang on.

  4. Indeed!

    Although to be honest, i think Naples was the one NATO base really safe anyway. Considering that the strategical issues are in North Africa / Mediterranean / Middle East, and are likely to stay there for many years still, Naples is the best placed of the main command centers.

    Sure, today's technology makes physical proximity less important, but still.
    However, the reshuffle was certainly a factor not to be undervalued.


Everybody can comment on this blog without needing a Blogger account. It is meant to keep the discussion free and open to everyone. Unfortunately, anonymous accounts keep the door open for spammers and trolls, so i'm forced to moderate comments and approve them before they appear. Apologies for the inconvenience.