Palma de Mallorca: A Brief History Of Spain's Third-Busiest Airport

palma de mallorca: a brief history of spain's third-busiest airport

Palma de Mallorca: A Brief History Of Spain’s Third-Busiest Airport

Located five miles east of Mallorca’s capital city of Palma today, Palma de Mallorca Airport (PMI) is the third-busiest airport in Spain after Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport (MAD) and Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN).

While PMI may be Spain’s third-busiest airport today, the area has an interesting history regarding aviation. The Balearic Island of Mallorca saw its first aircraft when Aeromarítima Mallorquina began delivering mail from Barcelona in 1921. Back then, Mallorca had no airport, so the company used seaplanes to take off and land in the port of Palma de Mallorca.

Mallorca had two airports in the 1930s

Realizing that they would eventually need to have a place where planes could operate from fixed runways, two land areas were cleared at Son Sant Joan and Son Bonet. In 1934, Aero-Taxi de Mallorca was created to bring tourists to Mallorca from the mainland. While this seemed promising in 1936, the Spanish Civil War pitted Republican supporters against Franco’s fascists. Nationalists (Franco supporters) quickly took control of the island and handed it over to Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who deployed his Air Force to help aid Franco.

From the airfield at Son Bonet on May 25, 1938, as many as nine Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 Sparviero fighter bombers took off from Mallorca to bomb the Republican-held city of Alicante. Purely targeting civilians in and around the central market, the Italians dropped their bombs and flew low over the town, firing their machine guns at people fleeing to safety. In total, as many as 393 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded, making it one of the most significant bombing raids of the war.

All civilian flights moved to what is now PMI

When the war ended in 1939, Europe was engulfed in World War Two, but Spain remained neutral because of the devastation brought about by the civil conflict. In 1946, the first customs area was built at Son Bonet, but it soon became apparent that the airport needed to be bigger, yet there was no way to extend the runway. Because of this, all civilian traffic was sent to Son Sant, what is known as PMI today. In 1954, the runway was lengthened and paved to enable the Spanish Air Force to operate F-86 Sabre fighters from the airport.

As Spanish and some European tourists began vacationing in Mallorca, it became apparent to Franco and his government that the island had potential as a tourist destination. With this in mind, the airport and its expansion were deemed a matter of public importance. During the 1960s, PMI facilities improved, including adding a second runway. In the 1970s, charter companies began flying British and German vacationers to Mallorca, offering them a week or two in the Mediterranean sun.

The package holiday idea soon caught on, and by 1980, Mallorca Airport welcomed seven million passengers a year. By 1986, this number had grown to ten million, prompting the airport to build a new terminal. By 1995, the number of people using PMI had increased to more than 15 million and continued to rise until the September 9, 2001, terror attacks in New York and Washington.

PMI is now the third-busiest airport in Spain

Following a brief slowdown, passengers returned, and by 2007, more than 20 million passengers were passing through the airport. Thanks to passenger numbers, the airport has expanded its two terminals to meet a growing demand.

PMI remains the main base for Spanish airline Air Europa and a focus airport for easyJet, Jet2, Eurowings, Ryanair, and Vueling. During the summer months, Mallorca’s popularity has German national flag carrier Lufthansa using Boeing 747s to fly passengers on what is, in essence, a short-haul flight of just over two-hours.

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