The blustery conditions forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights over three days, causing widespread disruption and leaving around 22,000 passengers stranded until the winds abated.
A dozen or so flights did manage to land and leave the island on Tuesday after a slight drop in the wind opened a short window of opportunity, allowing around 1,000 passengers to exit and travel to the island, but the majority was still retained.
Strong winds were forecast to prevail until late Wednesday or early Thursday this week.
By Wednesday afternoon things had gradually started to return to normal, but not before a flood of complaints had been flung around by the affected passengers.
The wind-parameter landing rules currently in place on the notoriously challenging runway date to 1976.
The Regional Government has said “this means that due to an often very minimal margin, planes cannot operate when they could, and safely.”
Even though the wind this past weekend exceeded all recommended limits, on other occasions less blustery weather has brought operations to a standstill, causing significant delays and long queues of passengers.
Madeira’s recently renamed Cristiano Ronaldo airport is the only national airport where it is compulsory to comply with wind limits outlined by the National Association for Civil Aviation (ANAC), whereas elsewhere they serve only as a recommendation.
This measure has been in place since 1976, and the regional government says it is now time for it to be reviewed.
In agreement, is retired SATA pilot Timóteo Costa, who has over 9,000 landings on the island under his belt, before and after the runway was extended in 2000, and who champions a change to the wind rules in Madeira.
Speaking to newspaper Expresso, he explained that, for example, in the Canary Islands, wind limits are a recommendation and pilots can land when winds exceed the recommended limit without a report being sent from the control tower to aviation authorities.
On Madeira, a report is sent whenever a plane lands outside the recommended limits and the pilot is summoned to give an explanation, “even when the recommended limit is 25 knots and the landing is made in 26 knots.”
“The issue is not discussed and it is put down to safety. My question is, why is it only compulsory for Madeira, when at other airports [the wind limits] are just recommendations. And I am referring to very similar airports, such as La Palma, in the Canaries, which is also built on a plain near a slope”, he said.
Elaborating on his views, the pilot said he agrees with the recommendations but argues that, at the same time, in some circumstances, a pilot can abort a landing even if within the recommended wind limits, if they think the conditions are not appropriate.
“We must not forget that all pilots who fly to Madeira are obliged to have a specific training, are experienced and know the winds and the airport very well.”