Ibiza Airport Secrets

May 22, 2020

This feature is another in the series of aviation stories originally published in print magazines around the world. This was originally published in 2017 and as such facts and dates are relevant to that time. There have been some minor adjustments but to all intents it is the same.

 

I visited the party Island of Ibiza to find out how the airport deals with the influx of summer tourists

 

Covering 11/2 square miles (2.45km2) Aeropuerto de Ibiza or Aeroport d’Eivissa if you prefer the Catalan spelling  (IATA: IBZ, ICAO: LEIB) is situated just 5 miles (7.5km) from the capital and although in the far southwest of the island it doesn't take long to reach any of the most important tourist centres.  The airport also serves the nearby island of Formentera and is both the islands primary port of entry being used by 95% of people arriving or departing.

 

Historical roots

Aviation on the island goes back to 1949 when on August 13 the Es Codolá airport was opened. Es Codolá is the name of the bay adjacent to where the current airfield is situated. Originally prepared as a temporary military airfield at the beginning of the Spanish civil war some 12 years earlier it had been maintained as an emergency military airfield ever since.

 

Although opened to national and international civil tourist traffic as well as for tech stopovers the airfield lacked the proper installations to support this traffic and closed just two years later.

 

However the airport got a second chance as with the neighbouring islands, particularly Majorca moving forward with developing air transport the local authorities decided to catch up with their near neighbours. A board was formed with the intention of constructing an airport in Ibiza. In 1954 the decision was made to reopen and expand Es Cordolá.  Work began in 1958 but with a budget of just 500,00 ptas (worth €924,000 at todays values) which went to refurbish the existing barracks to provide both a passenger lounge as well as room for various airport services.

On the first of April that year Aviaco began services to Palma and Barcelona using a Bristol 170.  Later that year on July 10, Iberia also started service to Barcelona as well as Valencia with DC3’s. Later the Valencia service was extended to Madrid thereby making it possible to be in the nations capital in just a few hours, initially three times per week.

 

The 1960’s saw expansion begin in earnest. At the beginning of the decade work began on the runway as well as the installation of the new control tower which in fact was second hand having been dismantled at its previous home at Palma and transported to Ibiza.

 

New Beginnings

The airport had a brief closure from September 1961 when more land was appropriated to expand the airport to October of the same year when the airport reopened but this time to domestic traffic only and with only a Third class administrative classification. Spanish Airports are categorised by the volume of traffic with third being the smallest volume and first being the largest.

In 1962 the runway was extended further but at a time when the jet engine was making its mark and traffic was increasing at a great rate this extension was simply not enough, in fact the airport itself was simply outpaced and needed redesigning.  1964 saw more developments including a VHF radiogoniometer, more land appropriated for runway extension and lighting was installed on airside areas for the first time. Most significant was that work started on the new passenger terminal.

 

July 15, 1966 was an important date for the airport as it reopened its doors to international traffic and to 24 hour customs operations.  This allowed the arrival of the first non stop international flights and the subsequent increase in volume meant the airport was reclassified as first class the following year.

 

The following decade sees continuing traffic growth requiring even greater investment. In 1971 work began on the expansion of the aircraft parking areas and taxiway system.  1973 finally saw the completion of the new terminal which initially received just international traffic, accepting domestic traffic a year later.  The old terminal with its whitewashed archways onto the apron was closed and turned into the airports technical and administrative centre. 

Throughout the seventies more stands were added, a new access to the terminal was built and the airfield was modified to accept the Boeing 747.  

This decade also saw tragedy strike. On Friday January 7, 1972 EC-ATV a Sud Aviation Caravelle on Iberia flight 602 from Madrid via Valencia struck the 1361ft (415m) mountainside of Sierra de Atalyasa situated about 9 miles (15km) west of the airfield just 100ft (30m) from the summit. All 106 passengers and crew were killed, which at the time made it the second worst Spanish aviation accident.

 

The following decade saw more parking areas and a remodelling of the terminal which helped the airport reach over 3.5 million passengers from 61,000 movements

 

The terminal was further extended in 2002 adding more space in both arrivals and departures.

 

Current operations 

Traffic levels continued to rise from five million in 2010 to nearly seven and a half million in 2016, including a rise of one million on 2015, coming from over 72,500 movements. 2016 also saw 1,831 tonnes of cargo both as belly hold and from the Swift Air Embraer Brasilias on the routes to the mainland. However this was a decrease of nearly 10% on 2015, in fact cargo has decreased steadily throughout the years from a high of nearly 5000 tonnes at the turn of the century.

 

In 2016 there were 50 airlines operating to 90 destinations in 17 countries, 11 of which are in Spain.  The 7.4 million passengers came mainly from from international destinations which amounts to 62% of the total.  The UK is the biggest international customer with 23 destinations with Italy, Germany and the Netherlands following on, although combined passenger numbers from these countries only amount to slightly more than the UK total.  However the country with the largest volume of traffic is Spain which also holds two of the top three destinations of Barcelona and Madrid, separated by London in second place.

Although no airline is based at Ibiza, Ryanair is the main player with routes from the UK, Germany, Netherlands, Italy and France as well as a domestic service from Barcelona, Madrid and Malaga. Vueling is not far behind serving a number of domestic destinations alongside major European cities. The likes of easy jet, Air Berlin, Air Nostrum and the major European charter players make up the remainder of top ten.  Lesser known airlines such as Peoples Viennaline utilising an Embraer ERJ170 on a seasonal service from St Gallen - Altenrhein and Etihad Regional/Darwin Airline fly Saab 2000’s from Geneva and Lugano. 

 

 

 

New airlines for 2016 include Corendon, S7, KLM and Wizzair. So far in 2017 Air France is the only new operator, with BA Cityflyer starting new routes from various UK destinations, not to mention how I got to the island on the new Manchester rotation.

 

Interestingly for a holiday destination,  91% of all traffic is on scheduled carriers which is largely made up of low cost airlines which makes up 65% of the total as well as the strong domestic traffic.

 

Ibiza, like many airports in the region and holiday destination airports around Europe, is characterised by the seasonal nature of its demand having mainly tourist traffic (86% of total) although it does offer some year round scheduled services mainly to business hubs such as Barcelona, Madrid and Palma which maintains a more regular demand throughout the year.

Ibiza actually closes part of its facility during the winter months of November to March to save costs, as well as moving from 24 hour operations to 07:00 to 00:00. However this does lead to the need to recruit seasonal staff each year which has created some conflict with full time permanent staff.

 

An area of real growth for the airport is from the business aviation community.  The airport currently has 25 Biz jet parking stands and will be increasing this number to 33 in the near future.  Biz jets of all sizes can be seen on the ramp adjacent to the old terminal buildings and the Fire and rescue centre. Aircraft from all around Europe and beyond can be found here, on the authors visit there was an A320CJ from the UK and a Brazilian Falcon 2000LX.  A dedicated Executive terminal is also to be constructed in the coming months.

 

 

The airport can handle nine million passengers, which equates to 4000 passengers during peak hours from its 2,800m CAT 1 runway and through its 17 boarding gates and on to its 25 parking stands, four of which have air bridges.  It can handle aircraft up to the size of the  B747-400 although no airline currently operates the aircraft there.

In departures there are 70 check in counters and once through security there are 16 different shops 11 restaurants and cafeterias, some of which are in the new food court area. 

 

 

 

 

 

The airport is bright and airy once airside with a modern contemporary feel.  A new VIP lounge was opened at the beginning of the 2016 summer season.  The lounge is available to all at a fee and is regularly full

 

Both the terminals and operational areas are overseen by the Airport Management Centre with views over the whole apron and taxiway system with feeds from CCTV all around the terminal and operational buildings.

 

The airport Fire and rescue services utilising five fire trucks as well as a modified Nissan Primastar vehicle designed for operations in confined spaces, are based beyond the old terminal building adjacent to the biz jet ramp where the SAMU Bell 412EP Air Ambulance and Trabajos Aéreos Martinez Ridao Air Tractor AT-802 equipped for fire fighting operate from. The Air Tractor is operational just for the length of the summer season.  A brand new Fire and rescue facility is currently under construction right next to the old one.

During the quieter winter months the airport offers educational tours to all levels from Primary to High school and professional and takes in the terminal areas and fire station in addition to other areas depending on the educational level and the individual groups areas of interest.

 

 

Environmental challenges.

 

As the airport is located in the Sea Salines nature park, airport management has always taken into account the surrounding environment when planning operations ensuring these operations are compatible with the preservation of the environment.  This manifests itself in what it terms an Environmental management system being integrated into the overall airport management, enabling the early identification of environmental risks.

 

As part of this environmental view, Ibiza like all AENA airports has a falconry centre as a means of bird control.  Considered to be amongst the most effective means of bird control the centre is tucked away at the rear of the Fire station and has a variety of different birds of prey which are regularly flown. The centre is registered as a biological nucleus with the island council and the permission to practice falconry is renewed on a yearly basis.

 

 

Getting to and from the airport is really easy and cheap, alongside the normal car hire and taxi services there are a number of bus routes serving the main tourist centres with a fare of no more than €4 which depart from just outside the terminal and are well signposted from inside.

 

Viewing at the airport is also quite easy with a seating area on the first floor overlooking the runway and the western entrance to the apron meaning all aircraft will pass by at least once when departing or arriving.  Photography can be difficult as you are, of course, shooting through glass and given the temperature the aircraft are often subject to heat haze.  There are a number of spots around the airfield which either require a longish walk in the hot sun or a vehicle although there is a beach area at the western end, ideal for 06 arrivals.  

 

As is the case with most holiday airports arrivals have a tendency to come from certain countries on certain days of the week so choosing the best day can be important.

 

Additionally aircraft generally arrive directly over Ibiza town so you can continue to view arrivals while enjoying what the town has to offer.

 

AENA the operators of the airport manage 46 airports and two heliports in Spain and claim to be the number one airport management company in the world with 230.2 million passengers from two million movements in 2016.  In addition to these Spanish operations AENA holds a 51% stake in London Luton airport in the UK as well as participating in the management of a further 15 airports in Mexico, Jamaica and Colombia which pushes these statistics even further.

 

 

AENA expects traffic growth to continue at Ibiza and as such have indicated in their 5 year plan that there will be an expansion of the parking areas to help deal with this growth.  Additionally in line with the amount of domestic traffic and what AENA sees as a growth area there will be discounts provided on such things as Passenger departure fees, PRM, safety and landing charges amounting to 70% on inter island flights and 15% on mainland flights.  Further discounts are to be levied on passenger fares and safety charges during low season. The airport operator works closely with the tourism authorities to drive new business to the island through the introduction of new routes or increasing the numbers of seats on an existing route or destination. In fact in 2010 the airport were presented with an Island Council award for their work on tourism development.

 

In short an interesting airport which has a good range of traffic on an island which has a great deal more to offer than the club scene it is famous for.

 

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