Friday, August 27, 2010

WHEN GIBRALTAR WAS THE COSTA’S AIRPORT

I recently visited Málaga airport with its gleaming new terminal. A major airport without doubt, the busiest in Andalucía and one of the most important in Europe. Yet I have to say if you are dropping anybody off or collecting them as I was it is a nightmare.

I compare that with the almost homely existing terminal at Gibraltar’s airport. It is my favourite airport for flying from because it is never crowded and everything is just a short walk away. I expect even with the new terminal Gibraltar will be a happier flying experience than its neighbour up the coast.

I am musing on the two airports as I have just read a report on the days when Gibraltar was the Costa del Sol’s airport. I suspect there were no rows then over the Rock’s airspace or air traffic controllers disputing jurisdiction. I gather though that the customs on the Spanish border were no more user friendly then than now.

In the 1950s Málaga had an airport although airfield would have been a better description. No gleaming terminals but rustic buildings. No tarmac runway just a grass strip. The runway was too short to accommodate the larger aircraft of the day and even those who did fly the route often had to be diverted because bad weather conditions would require the airport to close.

Down the coast at Gibraltar it was a different story. The much loved and lamented British European Airways flew this route from the Rock to London with some aircraft going via Madrid. Today, of course, BEA is no more having merged with BOAC to form British Airways.

Hence anybody in the province of Cádiz or Málaga who wanted to fly to the Spanish capital, go to London or use BEA’s Heathrow’s links for onward travel to Dublin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam and so on had to fly from Gibraltar.

BEA operated its workhorse the Viscount on this route. On arrival on the Rock passengers for Spain then had to negotiate the customs officials at La Línea. Once that challenge had been met it was on to the BEA Road Service – a famous transport link of the era.

The BEA buses drove up and down the then very basic road to Marbella where many of the tourists disembarked. The majority were British and others travelled on to stay at one of Spain’s first Costa-styled resorts – Torremolinos.

All this came to an end after 1959 when a tarmac runway was laid at Málaga airport and it was extended to 2,000 metres. State of the art navigation equipment for those days was also installed and so the Convair Metropolitans, DC-4s, Vickers, Bristols, De Havillands, Viscounts and Comets started to touch down. The Costa del Sol was born and the rest is history.

Yet without Gibraltar airport those first intrepid visitors to the coast would never have arrived by air at least. So the Rock’s airport has a firm place in the history of the development of Spanish tourism and the British holiday makers’ love affair with the Costa del Sol.

(Photo: Marbella – 1950s. This article first appeared in Panorama)

2 comments:

Nigel Cobb said...

Collecting people by car at Malaga airport has just not been thought out. If the arriving passenger is hiring a car, or using a taxi then all is fine, but the poor motorist collecting his family or friends is very much a second class citizen. You have to park a long way away from the arrivals terminal, often queue for some time to pay the charge for parking and then negotiate your way out of the carpark which is noty at simple as it sounds. This system is just ridiculous for modern airport.

DAVID EADE said...

Nigel is spot on. There are roadworks at the airport so traffic from Malaga has to go off on a side road. When I went that was closed too so you drove past the airport without any sign as to how you should access it. Luckily I knew where I was and after a kilometre or so was able to go off the main road, use the underpass and come back again on the other side. However how many tourists would know that as they rush for their flight. I simply couldn't find any access to arrivals, parked in departures and asked my friends to come up whilst I had a shouting match with the security guard.