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Malaga Airport celebrates 100 years with small plane retracing the route of the first arrival

The recreation of the first arrival last Sunday.
The recreation of the first arrival last Sunday. / ÑITO SALAS
  • The airport started life in 1919 as part of a primitive airmail service from France to Africa; a flight from Liverpool arriving at the same time a century later joined in the celebrations

The two planes were very different. One, a locally owned small, private plane completing the final stage of a four-day journey from southern France. The other, a scheduled Easyjet Airbus with 151 excited passengers from Liverpool. Both flew into Malaga Airport just before 10.30am last Sunday and those on board helped write a little more of the history of the Costa del Sol.

Malaga Airport celebrates 100 years with small plane retracing the route of the first arrival

/ ÑITO SALAS

Last weekend was the hundredth anniversary of the first flight into Malaga airport, except it was far from being an operating airport at the time. Instead, the two crew on the first arrival on 9 March 1919 chose at random from the air a flat piece of farmland in among the sugarcane plantations alongside the single-carriageway road from Malaga to Cadiz.

It was the ideal place to refuel on a pioneering airmail route from Toulouse to Casablanca, Morocco. Finca El Rompedizo was the name of the farm, and part of the sprawl of modern Malaga-Costa del Sol Airport covers the same site today. It is the oldest airport in Spain still operating on the same site.

The 1919 journey from Europe to Africa in a Samson biplane with no enclosed cockpit was revolutionary in its day, only a few months after the end of the First World War. The two people on board, Pierre Latècoére and Henri Lemaitre, set off to bring the mail to the French protectorate of Morocco by air for the first time. The airmail route involved departing from Toulouse and stopping in Spain; first in Barcelona, followed by Alicante (although in the first trip the plane stopped in Castellón instead), then Malaga. After the refuel it continued on via Rabat to Casablanca.

Malaga Airport celebrates 100 years with small plane retracing the route of the first arrival

Repeating the same journey last week in a Piper Warrior III were Ignacio Gil and Francisco Cuevas of the Real AeroClub de Málaga. They had set off from the club's Vélez-Málaga base for Toulouse several days earlier to get ready and flew back along the same route as a century before into Malaga. They were accompanied in the sky by two small planes from the Latècoére Foundation, which maintains the legacy of the French air pioneers today.

Welcomed by the fire crew

The crew from the three small planes, sporting Spanish and French flags, were welcomed to Malaga Airport with an arch of water from two fire engines and friends and relatives applauding them on the apron. The plan was to arrive at 10.30am last Sunday, 100 years to the minute, but favourable winds saw then touch down at 10.11am.

Pedro Cuevas, brother of Francisco said, "It's been a real effort to organise it all and the trip wasn't straightforward; they've had trouble with the weather... crossing the Pyrennes isn't easy."

Malaga Airport celebrates 100 years with small plane retracing the route of the first arrival

/ ÑITO SALAS

Mario Mirma, the president of the national philatelic association, which was one of several organisations supporting the initiative and which issued a special commemorative cover, said, "Nowadays express mail relies on aircraft, but back then it was a complete adventure."

The lucky passengers on the Easyjet flight from Liverpool arriving at the same time were also welcomed by the water jets and dignitaries from the airport.

Fortunately the passengers had been forewarned, to avoid any shock on seeing fire engines waiting.

Director of Malaga Airport, Salvador Merino, said, "A hundred years flies by. What stands out is how much has changed over that time. Last year we reached 19 million passengers and we continue to break records."

Speaking to SUR earlier in the week from Toulouse before beginning the commemorative flight back to Malaga, Francisco Cuevas explained how the anniversary event idea took shape.

"One day, delving into aviation history, I came across the story of the first flight to the city, and as I carried on investigating, I convinced myself that we had to commemorate that journey; it's something befitting for Malaga and its airport".