Spain starts first passenger flights from Madrid to Gibraltar

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Spain inaugurated its first passenger flights from Madrid to Gibraltar at the weekend, breaking the permafrost that has for centuries gripped relations between London and Madrid over the Rock.

A British flight from Gibraltar landed in Madrid at the same time on Saturday, heralding an unprecedented process of friendly dealings over the British colony.

"This is extremely important, it opens possibilities for the citizens of this area but it also opens window of evolution for the future," Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Bernardino Leon said on the tarmac, as the rock loomed behind him. "It's an agreement in which everyone wins."

Mr Leon was the first Spanish government official to set foot on the disputed territory, which Spain claims as its own under the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Peter Caruana, who vigorously defends the rock’s British sovereignty, was equally thrilled by the historic flight.

"I appreciate the political courage of the Spanish government for having reached this agreement,” Mr Caruana said. “Both sides worked hard to make sure that important issues are protected. But we've managed to work in the space in between to strike deals of enormous practical benefits to people on both sides."

The daily air link is the first practical fruit of an accord struck three months ago in Cordoba between Britain, Spain and Gibraltar when the three parties agreed to shelve the thorny problem of sovereignty, and concentrate instead on practical measures to build confidence and improve relations.

Other breakthroughs agreed at that meeting, shortly to be implemented, include doubling the traffic lanes crossing the frontier and lightening police controls, to end notorious traffic jams; a big increase in telephone lines granted by Spain; and the payment of long-frozen pensions to Spaniards who worked on the rock before the frontier was closed in the1960s during Franco’s dictatorship.

The air link makes life much easier for travellers on both sides of the frontier. One Gibraltarian passenger, Johnny Bugeja, who was flying to Madrid, said the flight had made history for him. "We made a journey in one hour that has always taken a day."