Flying high

With stunning sea views, the iconic rock and a short runway on the border of two countries, Gibraltar Airport is a regular in lists of the most scenic airport landings in the world. Unique in many ways, the airport is located in a British Overseas territory that measures only 2.3 square miles while serving a densely-populated city of approximately 30,000 people. Located a mere 2.5 hours flying time from the UK, Gibraltar also has no language or currency issues, making it convenient for passengers seeking business or leisure. On top of this, Gibraltar’s geographical location situates it just over one hour’s drive from its nearest airports, Jerez and Malaga, which means everyone enjoys their own unique catchment area, while its proximity to Morocco also makes the airport an alternative gateway to the region.

Discussing the history behind Gibraltar Airport is Terence Lopez, Air Terminal Director at Gibraltar Airport: “The airport itself began development in 1939 as a military airport and is still owned and operated by the UK Ministry of Defence to this day, however the air terminal is owned and operated by Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar. A new air terminal, air cargo facility and five aircraft stands became fully operational in September 2012.”

He continues: “The terminal itself boasts both landside and airside retail and catering, with excellent duty free shopping. One of the terminal’s prime features is an airside terrace in departures, which allows passengers to relax after passing through security control with a fantastic view of the North face of the Rock. The terminal also has its own dedicated general aviation facility, which includes immigration, security and boarding lounge. The short distances involved are also an advantage, with the average time taken from landing to walking out of arrivals on scheduled flights approximately 12 minutes, which makes it very convenient.”

A destination in its own right, Gibraltar has strong year-round passenger figures as its passenger base is a well-balanced mix of short term and long-term business and leisure travellers. “Approximately 50 per cent of our passengers are in transit to Spain, as Gibraltar Airport is ideally located both for the southern part of the Costa del Sol and theless known Costa de la Luz to our west, which runs from Tarifa to Cadiz,” says Terence. “A lot of the travel to the UK that originates in Gibraltar is inextricably linked to our historical and political links but there are others factors, namely our finance centre, further education and specialist medical care, which provides regular opportunities for residents of Gibraltar to do so and most of this is via our airport. The easy access to our port also makes us the gateway for the ship’s crew that are either leaving or joining vessels.”

In 2016, the airport once again beat records on passenger numbers, with 548,230 passengers handled in the calendar year, beating 2015’s record by an additional 103,894 passengers. This 23.4 per cent growth came mainly from travellers on scheduled services, which took a 546,549 majority, while the additional 1681 passengers were classed as non-scheduled passengers that arrived or departed on corporate services and charter flights. Furthermore, 4968 commercial aircraft movements were recorded in 2016 in comparison to 4100 in 2015, showing an increase of 21.2 per cent.

In terms of months, December 2016 was the highest percentage of growth in comparison to 2015, with 28 per cent more passengers that month, 40,005, in comparison to 31,252 in 2015. However, unsurprisingly, the month with the highest number of passengers recorded was August with 60,360, an increase of 27.5 per cent growth on the previous year. In fact, summer 2016 was a record season for Gibraltar Airport, with 50 weekly departures, 48 to the UK and two to Morocco. Looking at passengers carried, 189,652 were taken on the London Gatwick route, 134,616 taken on London Heathrow, 74,160 taken on Manchester, 59,851 taken on London Luton, 42,643 taken on Birmingham, 41,448 taken on Bristol and 4179 taken on Casablanca/ Tangier respectively. These flights continue to be undertaken by four airlines that operate into Gibraltar: British Airways from London Heathrow, easyJet from London Gatwick, Bristol and Manchester; Monarch Airlines from London Luton, London Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham, and Royal Air Maroc from Tangier and Casablanca.

“Thanks to its business, leisure and VFR proposition, Gibraltar Airport has seen an increase in demand in all market segments. One point to add though is that Gibraltar has experienced an increase in hotel visitors in 2016 and therefore the leisure short stay city break element has increased slightly more than other market segments,” comments Terence. “Gibraltar Airport has also benefited in the last couple of years from the shift in flying from eastern to western Mediterranean destinations, with Gibraltar Airport one of the fastest growing airports in the entire Iberian Peninsula in 2016. The new routes are all doing well, with the 500,000-passenger mark being broken for the first time in 2016, and the annual total amount being the highest we have ever recorded. We are currently on track to achieve this growth again in 2017, however, the terminal is operating well within its available capacity and no extra measures have been necessary to handle this increase in demand.”

To continue this trend of growth, her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar has created an ‘events led’ tourism strategy to ensure Gibraltar has a calendar full of events such as a Literary Festival, the Gibraltar Music Festival and a prestigious chess tournament, for example. “These events have improved our product considerably, making us a very attractive destination and resulting in repeat business,” highlights Terence.

With Gibraltar and Gibraltar Airport always open for business, Terence aims to maintain the airport’s current rate of growth over the coming years while also trying to break into other regional and short haul European destinations. However, in the short term, Gibraltar Airport will focus on consolidation, as Terence concludes: “Consolidating existing routes with our current carriers with the view of developing mutually beneficial strategies is an area of great interest for us over the next 12 months. We are also very keen to explore the possibility of expanding our route base.”

Gibraltar Airport
Serves the British overseas territory of Gibraltar
Runway owned by the Ministry of Defence
Record year for passengers in 2016