Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence

Annex 13



  Gibraltar Airport is greatly underused in terms of civilian flights. At present, there are direct flights only to London Gatwick and London Luton.

  In the past, there have been direct services to London Heathrow (discontinued end of March 2002), Manchester (discontinued several years ago), Tangier, Casablanca and Marrakesh. All discontinued flights were operated by GB Airways for British Airways. There was also a direct service to Madrid which was operated by British Airways which was discontinued in 1979 (four years after Franco's death).

  There were representations made to GB Airways by the Government that it was not in Gibraltar's best interests to have a number of flights (as was the case in 1996-97) travelling on to Morocco from Gibraltar as the seat capacity on the Gibraltar route was thereby curtailed sometimes severely: there were occasions when the service from Heathrow to Gibraltar and Marrakesh did not call at Gibraltar because all seats had been sold to Marrakesh. Instead of increasing dedicated capacity to Gibraltar and at the same time retaining the Morocco services. The airline decided to operate distinct flights to Gibraltar and Morocco. This decision was coloured by the fact that the airline found that its clients experienced difficulties with obtaining visas for Gibraltar. The Manchester service was discontinued by GB Airways because the airline considered it uneconomical due to high costs and low yield.

  The number of air arrivals at Gibraltar has been increasing steadily, since 1996 when the Government came into office and gave impetus to the promotion of tourism. The passenger arrivals figures (rounded off to the nearest 100) over this period are:

  1996  78,100

  1997  83,200

  1998  92,000

  1999  98,300

  2000  104,300

  2001  109,000

  There has been an increase of 40 per cent in air arrivals over the last six years.

  This increase has been achieved notwithstanding the cutting back of services from airports from which direct flights are no longer available (which has restricted the catchment area for Gibraltar flights) as a result of:

    (1)  an increase in the number of flights to Gibraltar, which now stands at 21 weekly services from London in the summer (three times daily) and 16 services a week in the winter;

    (2)  the commencement of services from Luton by Monarch Airlines in addition to the GB Airways Gatwick service;

    (3)  the operation by existing carriers of larger aircraft on the Gibraltar route, with the consequent additional capacity, rising from 112 seats to 190 seats and over.

  The growth in air arrivals would have been larger had flights from Manchester and Morocco not been discontinued.

  There has been interest from other airlines in flying direct to Gibraltar from other destinations, but Spain's obstructive policies and high landing charges imposed by the MOD are powerful dissuaders.

  The Government believes that there is a demand for additional air capacity to Gibraltar and, through Gibraltar, for the southern part of the Spanish Costa del Sol.

  The growth of no frills airline operations to many European airports cannot open up the Gibraltar market, because our landing charges are prohibitive. There has been interest expressed by Ryanair, but they would wish to be exempted from all landing charges, which is not feasible: other airlines would (justifiably) expect similar treatment.


  MOD landing charges.

  High fuel costs, because of the small volume of aviation fuel supplied: the economies of scale available elsewhere are denied to Gibraltar airport.

  Spain's policy of not allowing flights to Gibraltar to divert to Malaga when this is necessary because of adverse weather conditions. This is extremely inconvenient for passengers and expensive for airlines, who need to cover additional costs for no extra return.

  The length of the runway.

  The aids available to aircraft for landing when there is reduced visibility.

  The exclusion of Gibraltar from EU air liberalisation, the "single sky".

  The Spanish dimension in opposing any attempt by a carrier to commence a direct service to Gibraltar from any airport other than a UK airport.

  The unavailability of a special visa regime for Moroccan nationals wishing to travel to Gibraltar for shopping.

  Further pointers in relation to the above issues:


  MOD landing charges at Gibraltar are much higher than those charged by airports in the vicinity and at London airports, which makes it uncompetitive for an airline to operate a service to Gibraltar in preference to Malaga or Tangier.

  As an example the following table for charges per landing which currently apply (2002) serves to highlight the differential in prices:

Boeing 737-300
Boeing 737-400
Airbus A320
Airbus A321
Gatwick (peak)

    —  Monarch operates Airbus 320 and GB Airways is introducing these aircraft on the Gibraltar service, and as they are larger they pay higher landing fees (over £1,100 per landing). The difference in landing charges between Gibraltar and other airports has therefore increased.

    —  The MOD has an operational requirement to maintain Gibraltar airport, and it alleges that it only tries to recover from landing charges the additional costs incurred by allowing commercial operations. It is said that these additional costs exceed £1.4 million pa

    —  MOD have been asked (at meetings between the previous Commander British Forces and the Minister for Tourism and Transport) for a breakdown of the £1.4 million, but this has not been forthcoming. The sum seems very high.

    —  MOD income from landing charges has been increasing year on year, as a result of:

    (a) more aircraft operating to Gibraltar;

    (b) larger aircraft being used by operators who consequently pay higher fees.

    —  The Government suggested to MOD that landing charges at Gibraltar airport should be reduced by the MOD for a specified period of time, say three years (because lead in times for opening new routes are long), during which time GOG would attempt to entice existing operators to diversify their services and attract new operators. GOG recognises that there will be a loss of income to the MOD (compared to their present rate of income per annum). Most of that loss would represent a loss of increased income achieved in recent years.

    —  There is an MOD precedent for reducing landing fees: a 50 per cent reduction in the standard tariff is offered to new operators or flights from new airports for two years. However, even this discount is insufficient to make Gibraltar landing charges attractive compared with those, which apply in the region. For example, a 50 per cent discount on the £1,107.54 fee for an Airbus A320 would today reduce the fee to £553.77, which is still more than double the Malaga fee of £242.34. Furthermore, reducing tariffs for new operators only results in unfair competition to established carriers. What is required is a lower tariff structure for all operators.

    —  GOG indicated to MOD that it was prepared to discuss a formula whereby there would be a direct GOG subvention paid to MOD to recognise that landing charges had been reduced across the board. The way in which this subvention would be structured has not been discussed or negotiated, as the MOD has not shown interest in the suggestion. For the avoidance of doubt, GOG was not offering to cover the totality of the shortfall between existing MOD revenue from landing fees and the proposed level pegging of the Gibraltar landing charge with that of Malaga: only a proportion.

    —  A service was operated by Regional Air Lines (a Moroccan carrier) for a short period of time between Casablanca and Gibraltar, but it was uneconomical partly because of landing fees which came to about £300 per landing of the 19-seater aircraft, even though only 50 per cent (£150) was charged.


    —  Every attempt to introduce new services to Gibraltar has been frustrated. Examples of this are:

    1.  Madrid refuses to allow direct air communications between Gibraltar and Madrid or Barcelona, for which there is demand—probably sufficient for at least a daily service to Madrid and a less frequent service to Barcelona. Ironically, there was a direct Madrid flight from Gibraltar during the period of the closed border under Franco, and when the service was discontinued by British Airways for commercial reasons in 1979, and the airline subsequently wished to reinstate it, the Spanish Government refused to allow it. If it were possible to commence operations tomorrow, GB Airways would wish to once again offer this service, and probably so would Iberia.

    2.  A Portuguese airline, Aerocondor, filed an application in 2001 with the Portuguese Civil Aviation Authority to operate a Lisbon-Gibraltar service, and the airline was told that they were not being granted a licence because of Spanish pressure.

    3.  Crossair, a Swiss airline, was very interested in operating a service from Geneva or Basle to Gibraltar, and were progressing well towards this end, when the whole operation went dead. It is strongly suspected that Spanish pressure was brought to bear on the airline to "persuade" it to drop its application.

    —  There is strong suspicion, although there is no actual evidence, that airlines are practically blackmailed by Spain into dropping any interest they might have in Gibraltar operations through veiled threats that they will lose good slots at Spanish airports if they are supportive of Gibraltar in any way. The only services which are allowed are those which operate from the UK or Morocco (ie outside EU).

    —  Spain has entered into a deal with the UK that no EU air liberalisation matters will be extended to Gibraltar (and the UK has accepted this), unless Gibraltar signs up to what is known as the 1987 Airport Agreement. The reason for this is to ensure that Gibraltar does not acquire the right to operate services to any Community airport, unless Spain is first given joint control of the airport at Gibraltar. Such a right means that a Madrid service could be reinstated, which the Spanish Government vehemently oppose. In this regard, it is moot that prior to the full reopening of the land frontier with Spain, and the extension by Gibraltar of full EU rights to Spaniards in advance of Spain entering the EU (ie in late 1994), the Spanish Government agreed at a technical level inter alia to the full restoration of air and sea links with Gibraltar, in addition to the land link, and yet it neither restored air links nor allows others to do so, in breach of its obligations.

    —  An exchange of correspondence from 1991 between the Chamber of Commerce and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom and Spain is attached. The reply from the Spanish Premier's office only issued after a complaint was made by the Chamber of Commerce to the Spanish Ombudsman that no reply had been forthcoming. In the third paragraph of the letter of 5 December 1991, the Spanish Prime Minister's Office made clear that Spain had signed the 1987 Airport Agreement for "reasons of sovereignty".

    —  The Gibraltar Government has no objection to a shared use of Gibraltar airport, on a commercial basis, but it is opposed to joint control.

    —  If a flight bound for Gibraltar needs to be diverted because of adverse weather conditions, it normally has to land at Tangier first, and then travel to Malaga. If it does not do this, the aircraft is obliged by the Spanish authorities to return to the UK from Malaga empty and a new empty aircraft needs to fly out to Malaga to collect the outgoing passengers from Gibraltar who travel to Malaga on a coach in order to board their aircraft. This is scandalous.


    —  This is a critical issue for the success of an air service (and indeed a frequent ferry service) between Morocco and Gibraltar. At the insistence of the UK, the local arrangement for issuing visas on arrival to Moroccan nationals and to controlling their entry and departure from Gibraltar was revised a few years ago consequent upon the EU Common Visa List Regulations. What had, until then, been a lucrative business attracting Moroccans to shop in Gibraltar dried up overnight as they found it very difficult to obtain visas.

    —  It is not commercially viable to develop air services to Morocco without a satisfactory resolution of the visa issue.


    —  If the navigational aids for landing in reduced visibility at Gibraltar were to be upgraded, a number of flights which today need to be diverted to Malaga would be able to use the Gibraltar runway.

    —  There may be an issue which will need to be addressed in the short term should the number of flights to and from Gibraltar airport increase; it will then be feasible to have a main road cross the runway, and alternative solutions will need to be sought. Some of the potential solutions carry an MOD dimension.

    —  It is not satisfactory to the Government that the Shell aviation fuel facility should be situated almost next to the Terminal building: the Government would wish to resite this further away within the boundary of the airport, for reasons exclusively of public safety. This will require the grant of MOD land. An approach to the MOD in this regard will shortly be made.

Ministry for Transport

Duke of Kent House

Cathedral Square


July 2002

Letter from the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce to the Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 10 April 1991

  I am enclosing a copy of the joint proposal prepared by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce and a group of interested Spanish businessmen, to the respective Prime Ministers of Britain and Spain.

  We believe that our suggestion forms a sound basis on which to move from the present stalemate position in a way which would derive important benefits to both business communities on either side of the border.

  We have quite deliberately created a set of words which avoid entirely these sensitive issues of sovereignty or any implied acceptance of the 1987 agreement. Our aim was to put forward a proposal which would gain the maximum benefit for the commercial sectors in this area with the smallest political concession possible. The proposals have been made public in Gibraltar and although the response has been muted, behind the scenes, it has been encouragingly positive. I personally have no doubt that the ball is firmly in the court of the politicians in Madrid and I do hope they will take this opportunity to break the unhelpful impasse which is doing so much damage to relations between Gibraltar and Spain.

  Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of our paper prior to my meeting you in London on the 23 April at 1200.

Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce

10 April 1991

Letter to the Prime Minister from the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Small and Medium businesses of La Linea, 8 April 1991

  The Group in favour of the expanded use of Gibraltar Airport, represented by the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Small and Medium businesses of La Linea which have been holding meetings since the beginning of the year, is in a position to demonstrate the importance widely recognised, that the greater use of this airport would have.

  Being able to make use of a gateway to the rest of the countries of the Common Market will facilitate enormously in the development of Gibraltar, La Linea, the hinterland and the western Costa del Sol in such areas as tourism, retail activities, property development and shipping with the subsequent important benefits to job creation, moreso in the current circumstances of these sectors. Being able to avoid having to travel to Jerez, Malaga or Seville would mean real savings in time and money, in the transport of passengers as well as merchandise, for a population of almost 500,000 people. The potential of a superport in the Bay and its area of influence is also evident. The great event of the EXPO 92 would further justify any expansion of the present facilities for flights to Gibraltar. To this should be added the complementary commercial activities which a developing airport generates with the subsequent employment opportunities.

  Our proposal in this respect, in order to break the present impasse and to create a favourable climate to seek a global solution to the problem of the greater use of Gibraltar airport is that flights should be authorised on a daily basis between Gibraltar-Madrid and Madrid-Gibraltar as soon as possible by means of Spanish and British airline in such a way that travellers to Spain would pass by a direct channel straight into Spanish territory.

  We are hopeful that the meeting to be held with the President of the Spanish Government, on the 6 May next, in London, could be an opportune occasion to approve the above proposal. We are convinced of the favourable effect which such approval would produce and of its immediate repercussions in social and commercial relations.

  We wish to make clear that the majority of the businesses sectors on both sides of the Frontier and a growing number of people are conscious of the benefits of having scheduled services with the capital of Spain, as a first phase towards establishing air services which have long been sought after by trade.

  We trust this proposal will receive your favourable attention.

  PS. We have also sent the Spanish version of this proposal to the President of the Spanish Government on this same date. Attached please find a list of the firms and associations that have formed part of this Round Table to date.[66]

Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce


8 April 1991

Letter from the Private Secretary, Downing Street, to the President of the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce, 25 April 1991

  Thank you for your letter of 8 April to the Prime Minister. I have been asked to reply.

  We have noted your ideas with interest. We are always ready to explore ways which might lead to a resolution of the impasse over development of the airport in Gibraltar. We have made this clear to the Spanish and Gibraltar Governments. If they are prepared to consider your proposals as a possible way forward, we should certainly be willing to do so too. I agree with you that a fully developed airport would bring considerable benefits to the region generally.

  We are grateful for your efforts in trying to find a resolution to this long standing problem.

Private Secretary

Downing Street

25 April 1991

66   Not printed. Back

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