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Fresh salvo in bitter row over Bilbao flights

The war of words between the Gibraltar Government and the GSD over the Bilbao flights continued yesterday, as No.6 Convent Place hit back at the Opposition in an increasingly bitter series of exchanges.

No.6 was reacting after the GSD accused it of “jumping the gun” by announcing a new link to Bilbao this summer.

The service was first revealed by the Spanish airline Volotea, but it later emerged the airline lacked permission to operate the route.

Although it had put tickets on sale immediately after the announcement, Volotea subsequently withdrew them from sale and the future of the planned service remains unclear.

The GSD said this week that the Minister for Tourism, Vijay Daryanani, had “failed to ask the fundamental question” of whether the airline had the necessary licence to fly to Gibraltar prior to making the announcement.

But on Wednesday, the Government accused the GSD of being “petty and small-minded.”

It said the Ministry for Tourism had acted in the same way as counterparts in any other part of the world would have done.

It said that when the Gibraltar Government was approached by Volotea and asked whether Gibraltar supported such flights, the answer was that the Government had no objection.

The airline was asked to obtain all the necessary permits and consents, it said, adding “that was a matter for the airline.”

The Opposition was making “a mountain out of a molehill with little regard to what is good for Gibraltar,” adding that the controversy was “more in line with the internal battle for relevance within the GSD itself.”

The Government said Gibraltar’s main market for tourism by air “remains without question” the United Kingdom, adding that this is where it would continue to concentrate its efforts.

There are presently no flights between Gibraltar and the European Union.

The last air connection with Spain, which followed the 2006 Cordoba agreement, ceased to operate after issues with the timing of the flights and the cost of the air tickets.

For this reason, flights to the European Union “are at this stage simply a bonus.”

The Government said it was still not certain with the UK/EU treaty for Gibraltar’s future relationship with the bloc would cover aviation.

“The good news, whatever the Opposition may say, is that our route network to the United Kingdom continues to expand with new airlines and new destinations,” Mr Daryanani said.

“It will be recalled that Eastern Airways has announced operations which will link Gibraltar to Southampton and Birmingham, Wizz Air to London Luton and existing operator Easyjet has added Edinburgh to its schedule – all subject to the evolution of the pandemic.”

“This is positive for Gibraltar. Gibraltar has never had such an extensive network of airlinks to the UK and this is something on which I would have thought the GSD, if they were being fair, would want to congratulate the Government.”

“Indeed, given that the influx of safe tourism this summer is most likely to be from the UK, these are the airlinks we most need to see operating effectively.”

“Sadly, the GSD Opposition have chosen to be negative and destructive, which seems to be their default position.”
“Their double-standards are beyond belief. All this comes from a party that in office once trumpeted flights by an airline that did not even exist.”

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