FolkestoneJack's Tracks

Touch down in Gibraltar

Posted in Gibraltar by folkestonejack on June 28, 2018

In my travels around Europe I have visited a couple of places that have laid claim to be the title of Gibraltar of the North (the fortress of Luxembourg and Suomenlinna in Finland) but had never actually made it to Gibraltar itself. Time to put this right…

A British Airways A319 arrives at Gibraltar airport

The trip started well, with an on-time flight and smooth landing at Gibraltar Airport. It’s not the busiest airport you will ever see – our flight was one of only five timetabled to arrive that day. However, it is one of the more interesting with an approach from way out in the Mediterranean Sea, steadily descending to a runway positioned between the rock and the border with Spain.

It is an impressive runway, stretching out across the isthmus and into the Bay of Gibraltar on land reclaimed during World War II using material blasted out during tunneling inside the rock. It is both a military airfield (RAF Gibraltar) and a commercial airport, handling around half a million passengers per year. Facilities have been upgraded in recent years with a spacious new terminal that offers one of the most scenic airport terraces anywhere.

Traffic queues build up while waiting for a British Airways flight to clear the runway

Our arrival meant a disruption to the daily life of the local population – the main road from the border to the centre of town crosses the runway. About 10-15 minutes before a flight arrives the barriers come down (not dissimilar to a level crossing on the railway) stopping cars and pedestrians from walking across. Sweeping vehicles go out to check and clean up the runway ahead of the inbound flight.

As soon as a flight has landed and taxied back to its stand the road re-opens. It’s quite strange seeing the queue of waiting traffic as you land and that spectacle looks just as impressive from the ground as up on the rock at one of the many vantage points. All of that is expected to change in early 2019 with the completion of a four lane tunnel at the eastern end of the runway.

The new tunnel would see traffic take a one and a half mile diversion from the border, around the runway and back to the roundabout on Winston Churchill Avenue by the Cross of Sacrifice. It’s not surprising to hear that pedestrians are less keen to substitute this for their 150 metre walk across the runway. The Ministry of Defence is understandably keen to stop people walking across but there have been suggestions that the current arrangement might remain.

A view of the runway, terminal building, border post and the Spanish town of La Línea de la Concepción

Although the set-up is unusual, this is not the only runway with a road across it. In 2007 my travels took me on a road across the Swiss air base at Meiringen but that had considerably less road traffic and many more cows! I gather that there is also an airport runway with a railway line crossing it (at Gisborne, New Zealand) which sounds even more curious.

Up on the rock there are plenty of vantage points to watch commercial flights operated by British Airways, Easyjet and Royal Air Maroc come and go from Gibraltar, though it is hard to beat the terrace next to the Great Siege Tunnels. On our trip we were also lucky enough to see a Royal Air Force Airbus A400M-180 (ZM408) follow one of the commercial flights out.


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