The Boeing 737 had left the Leicestershire airport before dawn, and touched down at Murcia International Airport at 10.05am local time – 20 minutes early.
Both pilots were from the Murcia region: Captain Pablo Perez and First Officer Carlos Soriano.
Rarely has a Ryanair flight had such a warm welcome. It was greeted by dozens of reporters, TV crews and photographers, and passed beneath an arch of water provided by two fire trucks.
The plane landed ahead of the private jet of King Felipe VI, who officially opened the airport. The airport was cleared of passengers for the ceremony, with around 500 invited guests.
After unveiling a plaque to mark its inauguration, the Spanish monarch mingled in the check-in area, where the departure screen revealed destinations only in the UK and Ireland: East Midlands, Bristol, Stansted, Leeds Bradford, Southend, Luton and Dublin.
The new airport in Spain’s southeast replaces the old military-civilian airfield in San Javier, which was also known as Murcia but was much closer to the port of Cartagena.
The hope is that the new facility will boost tourism to the city of Murcia and the wider region.
The airside facilities are spartan, with a “duty-free shop” which is really only a few shelves along one wall, and only one mains socket for recharging mobiles or laptops – located outside the ladies’ toilet.
The final departure from San Javier airport was also on Ryanair, a departure to Manchester with the former footballer, Sir Kenny Dalglish, on board.
There is a big British community in the region, dozens of whom turned up for the opening day.
Yvonne, who has lived at the Hacienda de Alamo for 15 years, said: “They have talked about the airport opening for at least 10 years. It’s always, ‘next September, next January, next Easter,’ and now it’s finally opened, 10 minutes from my doorstep.”
The project began in 2008, with an opening date no later than 2013. But construction was slow and sporadic, dogged a series of political and financial disputes. The finances are opaque, but the airport and associated infrastructure improvements are believed to have cost around €500m (£445m).
A planned high-speed rail line has not materialised, and some have suggested that the airport is merely the latest of Spain’s series of “white elephant” airport projects. Murcia International is only 50 miles southwest of Alicante, which handles seven times more passengers.
Ciudad Real Airport proved a €1bn (£890m) flop, while Castellon Airport – like Murcia, serving southeast Spain – was open for four years before commercial flights began. Again, Ryanair operated the maiden flight.
While the airport was being completed, Murcia International was used as a location for filming Terminator 6 in July 2018.
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