Algeciras’ ghost airport

By David Eade
Algeciras is the busiest ferry port in Spain linking the mainland with the enclave of Ceuta and Morocco via Tangier. It also vies with Valencia as the busiest container port on the Iberian Peninsula. However when it comes to air travel it has a ghost airport.

Ghost airports are hardly a novelty in Spain. Although the main connections such as Madrid, Barcelona, Sevilla and Málaga handle hundreds of thousands of passengers others sit just accepting one flight or so a day. Many were political gimmicks, others have links to corruption. However last year the Partido Popular government moved via AENA, the airport authority, to either close some airports which were plainly uneconomic or reduce staffing levels.

Now Algeciras heliport fell in to this category as its flights between the port town and Ceuta carried less than 500,000 passengers a year. It has eleven staff members and it has been revealed that only one of the three actual earmarked to go has done so. That no doubt is a story in itself.

However not only does Algeciras heliport handle less than 500,000 passengers a year, since last June it has handled none at all. God alone knows what the ten remaining workers do; sweep the landing pad all day?

The run of daily flights across the Strait was operated by Inaer. When it announced it was withdrawing it was pressed to continue for several months as the flights were decreed to be in the public interest. On June 25 2012 they stopped and Cathelicopters who were meant to take over but seemingly is awaiting authorisation.

The heliport in Algeciras was inaugurated on July 1 2010 and cost AENA seven million euros to construct - former Supreme Leader please note! For now it sits idle.

There is obviously a huge demand for passengers to travel from Algeciras to North Africa as is shown by the ferry traffic. One would have thought the same applied to an air bridge too. A chopper link between Gibraltar to Ceuta is probably politically out of the question. However one between us and Morocco would not. It would allow people in Morocco to use our UK bound flights and being no expert on visa requirements I presume as long as they have the correct documentation they should be able to pass freely in to Spain as if they were crossing to Algeciras.

Flights from Gibraltar to Morocco used to be one of the features of our airport in the past, why not in the future too. A speedy chopper link should be attractive to Gibraltarians, Moroccans and our visiting tourists - certainly quicker than crossing the border then trekking to Algeciras or Tarifa. As we are again rebuilding contacts with our North African neighbour an air link would seem an obvious place to start.

*I have had an email from Veronica Croft who writes: "I am trying to trace my family history. My mother was born in Gibraltar. Her father was Frederick Batten and he was married to Angela (nee Rodriguez). He was killed/died in 1939." If you can help Veronica you can contact me via Panorama and I'll put you in touch. Thanks!