Gibraltar Airport is located on disputed territory. / SUR

2 December 1987: Spain and UK sign doomed Gibraltar Airport agreement

The two countries had been at loggerheads for many years over the stretch of land where the airport is located


After years of failed negotiations, the governments of the United Kingdom and Spain signed an agreement in London on Wednesday 2 December 1987 to allow the joint civil use of Gibraltar Airport, although it was never implemented.

The two countries had been at loggerheads over whether the airport's territory was ceded by the Treaty of Utrecht, a series of peace treaties signed between the European powers that engaged in the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714).

Gibraltar became a British Overseas Territory when it was taken during the conflict, in 1704.

The Spanish attempted to retake the Rock during the Siege of Gibraltar in 1727, and again during the War of the American Revolution (1779-1783): British sovereignty was further confirmed in a later treaty signed in Paris in 1783.

The airport, which was built on the site of the territory's old race course in 1939, is located on the narrow stretch of land that connects Gibraltar with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula, and Spain's ongoing sovereignty dispute with the UK over this area has had an adverse effect on the airport's operations.

The agreement signed by the two governments 200 years after the Paris treaty foresaw the construction of a new terminal in the Spanish municipality of La Línea de la Concepción, but this agreement was blocked by the Gibraltar government.

Spain retaliated by having Gibraltar excluded from initiatives such as the Single European Sky Programme, a system that seeks to reform European air traffic management through a series of actions that satisfy the needs for airspace in terms of safety, efficiency and environmental impact. This prevented direct links from Gibraltar to the European Union until an agreement on the airport was finally reached.

The implementation of the Córdoba Accord, an agreement signed by the UK, Gibraltar and Spanish governments in 2006, ended all restrictions on civilian flights to Gibraltar. This would also remove the prohibition of flights over Spanish soil, and the exclusion of Gibraltar from EU air agreements.

In November 2006, Iberia, the flag carrier airline of Spain, announced that it would begin flights between Gibraltar and Madrid, which was a landmark move seeing as no Spanish airline had flown to Gibraltar since 1979.