An Airbus 319 from Iberia became Saturday December 16 the first ever Spanish airline to fly to Gibraltar signaling an event that after decades of tension Spain, Britain and Gibraltar are finally overcoming a centennial sovereign dispute by concentrating on cooperation and development.
"This means a greater degree of normality. Both sides have protected the issues that are important to them, but we have worked on the space in between to deliver practical benefits to citizens on both sides of the border" said Peter Caruana, Chief Minister of Gibraltar meeting the press after the flight had landed. "I want to recognize the contribution of the Government of Spain which has known, as we have, how to park, safely, the issues of sovereignty but has been willing to take political risks to deliver something of benefit to all sides". One hundred and seventy journalists and the elite of Spain's diplomatic team which has worked on the recovery of Gibraltar - a three hundred year top three priority foreign policy issue - crammed into the Iberia aircraft Saturday morning to make the one hour journey to the Rock. Also on board was the UK Foreign Office Director for Europe, Anthony Smith, and Gaspar Zarrías from the Andalucia Xunta presidency. Bernardino Leon, Spain's Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the most senior diplomat dealing with Gibraltar issues in Madrid, stepped at 13:00 local time on Gibraltar soil, a strip of sea level land which Spain has consistently argued is 'illegally occupied' by the United Kingdom. He is the first such senior representative of Spain to formally do so. "I believe we are shifting the framework of co-operation," said Mr Leon. "I think the flight also opens windows of evolution on these issues for the future. But what we are thinking of now is an agreement in which everyone wins and no one is to lose. We are all keeping our traditional positions on sovereignty. It is an historic day" added the Spanish official. From London Geoff Hoon Minister for Europe said that he "warmly welcomed the start of regular scheduled air services between Gibraltar and Madrid for the first time since 1979. This is a tangible sign of progress being made under the Cordoba Trilateral Forum agreements - progress that will bring real benefits to the people of Gibraltar". The British Airways franchise holder GB Airways also marked the day by hosting a special "Santa" flight to Madrid and back on which schoolchildren from Gibraltar and the Campo and other guests flew. In Madrid they were met by the British Ambassador, Sir Stephen Wright. Iberia's return flight left at 16:00 hours for Madrid and will have a daily connection with Gibraltar. Other airlines are said to be interested in flying to Gibraltar. Currently only GB Airways and Monarch linked London and Manchester with the Rock.