A Brief History of MÁlaga Airport
The history of the Málaga-Costa del Sol International Airport is a story well worth telling. And it all began with an intrepid French engineer and entrepreneur Pierre-Georges Latécoère, considered by many to be the trailblazer that eventually led to the creation of Air France.
For our purposes, Latécoère founded the postal airline that put Málaga on the map. The airline, Compagnie Générale Aéropostale, was built on Latécoère's dream to establish an air mail service between France and Morocco and eventually to other French colonies in Africa and on to Latin America. However, it wasn't built overnight and it only came about after great persistence on the part of Latécoère and his hardy team of pilots and colleagues.
The first thing Latécoère had to do was establish sites for landing along the way. He chose Barcelona, Alicante and Málaga in Spain, but then had to actually procure suitable stretches of land in those areas and eventually convince the Spanish government to allow him to use them - no small feat since authorities were more than a bit suspicious about the motives behind the new route. Why should they allow a French company to use Spanish soil to provide this service? Why not set up a Spanish company to do the job? Could this be a strategic move that should be stopped with no further ado?
Latécoère definitely had his work cut out for him. In fact, just about everything seemed to be against him. Before securing a site in Málaga, he was able to get a stretch of land in Alicante. However, due to a misunderstanding, rather than giving him 600 meters to land, locals prepared 600 square meters, which became evident when the plane crashed during landing – due to insufficient space.
The Málaga landing site was not supposed to be the actual site the facilities occupy today. In fact, Latécoère had worked out a deal in the Misericordia neighborhood to land in an area called “La Isla”. Everything was in place. There was even a garage nearby with mechanics ready and willing to do maintenance work on Latécoère’s planes.
However, the day Latécoère and his pilot Lemaitre were set to fly to Málaga, it rained heavily. When they arrived, the entire area was covered with puddles. And after the disaster in Alicante, they really didn’t want to take any chances. They circled around looking for a safe place to land and lo and behold – a spacious, flat area stretched out beneath them. It was a farming estate called “El Rompedizo”, owned by a man named Félix Assiego.
As the plane landed on El Rompedizo property, owner Félix Assiego eagerly came out to meet both engineer and pilot. He was delighted to provide a landing area and promptly invited the visitors in for a snack which, according to airport sources, soon turned into an elaborate Spanish meal. Little did Señor Assiego know, his property had a great future. That unexpected visit was the beginning of great things in Málaga.
Latécoère’s, Compagnie Générale Aéropostale, would take months to establish, but it would go on to become a great success. After much haggling, officials in Madrid granted permission to operate from Spanish territory. On the other hand, it seems it wasn’t difficult at all to convince Señor Assiego to grant the use of his land and to establish Málaga Airport firmly upon the site the airport museum occupies to this day.
MÁlaga Airport Timeline
MÁlaga Airport – the Beginning
1919 – On March 9, 1919 a Salmson 2A airplane flies over Málaga looking for a place to land – chooses farm called El Rompedizo. Pierre Latécoère – looking to set up air bases in Spain to establish a commercial connection between France and French colonies then later on to South Americas.
On September 1st of this year, after months of test flights, Didier Daurat (future director of Málaga Airport) inaugurated regular service between Toulouse, Barcelona, Alicante, Málaga, Tánger and Casablanca.
MÁlaga Airport and the Spanish Civil War
1936 – On July 18th of this year, Civil War breaks out in Spain and Málaga airport becomes an airbase for the Republican Army under the leadership of Don Abelardo Moreno Miró.
1937 – Málaga Airport is still an airbase, but no longer under Republican control. On February 18th Franco’s forces take Málaga capital and the airport immediately changes hands and roles. From this point on, the airport is no longer in “active duty” because it’s so far away from the war front. Instead, Franco’s forces use it more for logistical purposes.
1938 – Franco’s forces finally have a clear purpose for Málaga Airport and they open a training facility for flight crews, military observers and other specialists. The airport also gets a new control tower. During this phase of the airport’s history, you could see planes like the Heinkel HE-46 and 43, the Bucker BU-131 and Junkers JU-52. These planes were used for training students at the on-site facilities. A year before the war ends, the Italian airline Ala Littoria establishes flight service to and from Málaga.
MÁlaga Airport Post-Civil War
After the Spanish Civil War, Málaga Airport remains under military control, functioning as an airbase.
1946 – On July 12th, the Málaga airport begins to offer national and international flights and is equipped with customs officers. However, all passenger services are still provided by the airbase until 1948 when the civil passenger facilities are opened.
1950’s – Military training operations start to be either closed down or transferred to the Air Base Academy located at “Virgen del Camino”. However, the airport will still host the air force until 1973.
MÁlaga Airport and the Tourist Boom
1960’s – During this decade, Málaga airport expanded to handle a booming tourist industry as visitors from all over Europe began to flock to the sunny south of Spain. The airport expanded runways and built a new terminal north of the original terminal (which became the General Aviation Terminal for years and is now the museum). Eventually Málaga airport would also get a new parking area for aircraft as well as a modern control tower, an electric power station, a new passenger terminal building and high tech navigation equipment such as VASIS, VOR and later ILS systems.
1965 – Málaga airport receives a change of name. Until then, the facility was called “El Rompedizo” after the original farm it was built on, or “García Morato”. But this year, the government officially changed the name to Málaga-Costa del Sol Airport.
1968 – This year the new passenger terminal was inaugurated in order to handle all national and international flights.
1970 – Málaga airport is equipped with a radar system.
June 30, 1972 – Málaga airport is under such pressure to handle a growing number of tourists that authorities are hard pressed to meet the demands. Finally, on this date in 1972, a new terminal building is inaugurated. It’s called the “Modular Station for Non-Regular Traffic”.
MÁlaga Airport Recent History
30 November 1991 – This is indeed an exciting date in the history of Málaga airport because this is the day the largest-to-date, most modern-to-date terminal was inaugurated. The Pablo Ruiz Picasso Terminal has today been incorporated into the even newer, larger and greater Terminal 3. In 1991, however, it was still a towering tribute to the Costa del Sol’s tourist boom. The spacious two story building was designed by Ricardo Bofill and incorporated the old international terminal when it was built.
1995 – This was the year Málaga Airport welcomed its first parking garage, complete with an underground tunnel that connects to the passenger terminal. This year the old, original passenger terminal was also remodeled for use as the General Aviation Terminal.
1996 – This year a new maintenance hangar and a cargo terminal open their doors at Málaga Airport.
1997 – Aircraft at Málaga Airport enjoy an expanded parking area with upgraded re-fueling service stations.
November, 2002 – Málaga gets a new control tower, equipped with the latest and greatest VICTOR system that makes is possible to visualize all data on a single screen. Air traffic control just got easier at Málaga International.
MÁlaga Airport Today
2010 – Terminal 3 is opened on March 15th by their Royal Highnesses, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. The magnificent structure covers 250,000 square meters of land and flashes a gleaming façade to arriving and departing passengers.
2012 – A second runway is built at a non-parallel angle to the original runway due to land acquisition issues. Costing more than 470 million Euros to build, it increases the number of flight movements from 37 to 72 per hour. It is officially opened on the 26th June by the Minister for Public Development, Ana Pastor, making Málaga airport the fifth in Spain to have more than one runway. On September 30th, after just six months, the new runway is closed to save money. It is, however, reopened and used over the busy summer weekends and Christmas period.
2016 - Passenger flights continue to increase and a record 16.5 m passenger movements were recorded. The passenger movement increase had been sustained year on year except that the 2007 peak was not overtaken until 2012 due to economic conditions and AVE train to Madrid which carries 1.25m passengers.