‘MAY THE fourth be with you!’ might be a cheesy pun on the famous Star Wars quote, but it does aptly sum up a special anniversary for Alicante-Elche Airport, which celebrated a landmark anniversary this week, on Wednesday May 4.
It was 50 years to the day that the first commercial flight landed on the tarmac of the El Altet Airport, which is now the fifth largest in Spain and the fourteenth in Europe.
That inaugural flight, a Corvier Metropolitan plane chartered by the Aviaco company arrived from Madrid on May 4, 1967, year in which 80,677 passengers passed through the aerodrome and 3,764 aircraft were processed.
The flight lasted 90 minutes, twice as long as it takes today’s modern aircraft to cover the 500 kilometres between El Altet and Barajas Airport in Madrid.
Fifty years later, owners Aena forecast the airport to exceed 13 million passengers and about 90,000 aircraft maneouvres during 2017.
In fact, on that same day, May 4 this year, 47,430 passengers passed through the terminal and 277 aircraft from Britain, Russia, Germany, Belgium, Norway and of course, Madrid landed and took off.
The now-defunct Corvier Metropolitan that landed at El Altet on a sunny morning 50 years ago with Pilar Leal La Viña, the first passenger of the airport, was met by then Air Minister Jose Lacalle and Bishop Pablo Barranchina , who welcomed the first commercial flight in the history of the airport of El Altet (until then Alicante used the military base of Rabasa).
The airport that opened in 1967 would be completed with a charter terminal in 1972 with several more buildings added until in 1996 the first major expansion was undertaken.
The airport has been key to the tourist development of the province since the early 1970s. Until the inauguration of the charter terminal, tourists arriving from London landed in Valencia and from there they arrived in Benidorm by bus.
Since then the airport has undergone two major transformations to become one of the most modern terminals in Spain with the capacity to move 20 million passengers each year.
However those figures would depend on a solution to the ongoing problems regarding lack of rail connections with Elche, Alicante and Benidorm, a city that caters for 50% of passengers who start their holiday on the Costa Blanca.
The new terminal, completed at a cost of 384 million euros in 2011, is 15,500 m2. In size, with 148 check-in desks, 42 boarding gates, 21 travelators and 25 luggage collection areas and employs 60,000 staff.
In addition it has one thousand two hundred parking spaces and an area reserved for the arrival of TRAM and / or the railway, should that ever happen.
Earlier in the 20th Century, the airfield and runways of El Altet actually saw the first civilian flights ever to land in Spain, run by the French company Lignes Aeriennes Latécoére.
This company used it as a stopover of its mails with Dakar (Senegal) at the beginning of century XX. From the year 1927 its use was carried out by the company Aeropostale, forerunner of Air France.