At 12:57pm local time on Saturday December 16, an Iberia Airbus A319 made history as it arrived in Gibraltar as ‘IB3180’, the first scheduled service from Madrid to be flown by the Spanish airline. The last flight between the ‘Rock’ and the Spanish capital had been operated in March 1979 by a Trident Three of British Airways. The service has been introduced as part of a wide-ranging agreement between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar signed in Córdoba on September 18, 2006. Under the terms of this accord, Spain has lifted its restrictions on commercial flights operating between Gibraltar and other EU airports. At the same time operational rules limiting access over Spanish airspace were also relaxed. Under a complex logistical solution which uses Geneva airport as a model, passengers travelling through the Rock’s airport from Madrid to Spain will not have to clear Gibraltar customs and immigration controls and will be treated as arriving within the Schengen area.

The majority of the inaugural flight’s 141 passengers were journalists who had spent the short flight blocking the aisle to interview the roll call of senior politicians and officials from both Spain and the UK on board to mark the event. Heading Madrid’s representation was Bernardino Léon, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, the most senior member of the Spanish government to formally visit Gibraltar. He was accompanied by the principal negotiator at the tripartite talks José Pons and his British opposite number, Anthony Smith.

After a flight of just 52 minutes, the aircraft approached from the west and made a smooth touchdown on runway 27 before slowing very quickly in
applauding onlookers at the road barriers and what seemed like half the world’s press photographers scrambling to record the event. The aircraft taxied to the terminal where the official Gibraltar Government receiving party were waiting.

After the journalists and other passengers had disembarked through the rear of the aircraft, the dignitaries left through the forward door to be greeted by the Chief Minister, Peter Caruana and other senior politicians and officials. After extensive interviews with the waiting media, the VIPs were taken to a reception and lunch hosted by the Gibraltar Government. After lunch, the visitors were promised a brief tour of the Rock before returning to the airport. Just before 4:20pm, the Airbus took off after being waved away by the Chief Minister and other senior figures.

The Airbus A319, registered EC-JXJ and named ‘Ciudad de Baeza’ is one of the newest aircraft in Iberia’s fleet having been delivered from the factory on September 21 this year. The flight-deck crew was headed by Captain Ricardo Génova, Iberia’s Operations Director who was joined by Senior Captains Enrique Romay and Guillermo Quintanilla. In preparation for this inaugural flight, an identical A319 (EC-JDL, ‘Los Llanos de Aridane’) had undertaken a number of practice approaches from both east and west on November 26.

Iberia’s daily flight to Gibraltar departs from Terminal Four at Barajas Airport which opened in February this year. The daily flight is scheduled to leave Madrid at 11:50am with an arrival time of 1:00pm in Gibraltar. The return schedule leaves at 1:50pm with arrival in Madrid at 3:00pm. The service is timed to connect with flights to over 50 domestic, European and long-haul destinations from Madrid. Before the introduction of this service passengers from Gibraltar, the Campo de Gibraltar, the western Costa del Sol and the Costa de la Luz had to travel to Málaga, Jerez de la Frontera or even Seville to fly anywhere other than London.

Dignitaries and journalists assembled for the inaugural flight in the Dali VIP lounge at Barajas before boarding the aircraft through gate H22 which gave a taste of the media frenzy which was to be witnessed on arrival in Gibraltar. Once on the aircraft, the crew welcomed passengers on board what they described as ‘this historic flight’ in both English and Spanish before presenting everyone with a small metal Iberia key ring engraved with ‘vuelo inaugural MAD/GIB/MAD 16 Diciembre 2006’.

Just 15 minutes before the arrival of the Iberia flight, G-TTOC, a GB Airways A320 in the colours of British Airways had left Gibraltar as ‘GT152’ on a commemorative service to Madrid. This flight, whose passengers included local parents with their children and other invited guests, was scheduled to remain on the ground in the Spanish capital for just under an hour before returning to the Rock. GB Airways has announced plans to start its own service to Madrid in May 2007. In addition, Fly Gibraltar, a low-cost airline is planning to launch services from the Rock to a number of points in the UK and Ireland from April 2007. With the recent agreement it is also hoped that other carriers will introduce services to Barcelona and additional points in mainland Europe.

 

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