For the past few weeks, and for a couple more to come, the RAF Gibraltar (Royal Air Force) has been training their military planes, which basically means they are using the Gibraltar runway for take-off and landing. Through the news that I’ve followed, and the personal experience I’ve had, there is so much I have learned about life in Gibraltar and the constant tension between Gibraltar and Spain.
I recently read an article dated July 2010 that highlighted the tension between Gibraltar and Spain in relation to the military training of Tornadoes from Gibraltar. It was interesting to read that just two years ago, official air space in Gibraltar was not evident – Gibraltar had no territorial waters, therefore no airspace above those waters. It also explained how Alboran, an uninhabited chunk of rock east of Gibraltar, was a site of controversy where military training was concerned. A Mediterranean training area, the lower half is deemed Moroccan airspace and the northern half is deemed Spanish airspace. Morocco had given the British military permission to use it to train, but Spain would not. Again, this was only two years ago.
Since then, military training and commercial flying has become commonplace in Gibraltar, but the tension still seems to resonate between Gibraltar and Spain. From what I’ve understood, and from the stories I’ve heard from locals, Spain holds a huge grudge because Gibraltar is British, not Spanish. However, Gibraltarians continuously vote to remain a British Colony. If you followed the Diamond Jubilee news this summer, you may have heard that Queen Sofía of Spain snubbed Queen Elizabeth II during her celebrations when she cancelled a visit to the UK. This was because of disputes concerning Gibraltar, mainly over fights to do with the fishing waters. And to make matters worse, they are related! This just highlights a fraction of stories I’ve heard – our personal banker who grew up in Gibraltar and my hairdresser who grew up in La Línea have both told me stories of the fighting that happened when they were children.
That being said, Gibraltar remains British, which means every so often the RAF trains here. Our personal experience with this has made for an interesting summer. For one, commercial flights cause enough traffic problems on their own. Traffic in and out of Gibraltar must stop when planes take off and land, because it crosses the runway. Add an influx of planes and more frequent stoppage, and life here becomes a cluster of madness. I recently came into work a little late after dropping Christine off at the airport, and it was easily a 45 minute affair. For one, it was impossible to get a taxi, because they were stuck on the other side of the runway. It would have also been idiotic to jump in one only to watch the meter tick while you sit still, waiting for the planes to land one after another. Therefore, I chose to walk, but again, you stand waiting at the gate that keeps you off of the runway. By the time the planes land (or take off) the mass of people has quadrupled, cars are at a standstill in the queue on the other side of the border in Spain, and driving anywhere near the runway in Gibraltar is crazy.
However, Matt and I have instituted a fail-proof routine: for the most part, the military training happens at the same time, so we make sure to come into work earlier. We also don’t risk driving across into Gibraltar for fear of the queue that would await us later in the evening. Once the nuisance was under control from our end, I simply listen to the thunderous roar every day at the office as each Tornado takes to the skies. And thanks to the open roof atop our office, I’ve been able to take a break here and there to see these planes in all their glory. Sometimes, I can’t help but shake my head as I ponder the place I live and the unique experiences that come with it.
*Click on any of the photos to enlarge. Seriously – they’re pretty cool in the larger size.