European Commission's hopes raised that Spain and UK can settle dispute over airport

The European Commission's efforts to conclude a single sky directive are expected to be boosted by the end of the year amid signs that delays caused by a dispute between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar airport is now approaching a resolution.

Successive European airspace liberalisation agreements have been held up by the status of the airport, whose runway is built on disputed "neutral ground" between the British dependency and the Spanish mainland.

Membership of the European Commission into Eurocontrol, which would allow the EU's executive branch to help implement decisions made under its single skies air traffic management initiative, is being held up by the two countries' lengthy dispute.

Both countries, however, are keen not to delay the crucial reforms any further and are set to announce plans to share control of the airport in September, ahead of the next EC transport committee meeting.

The directive requires the approval from all member states. Spain had previously refused to recognise the airport for fear of weakening its territorial claim. But under the new proposal, it will gain access to an additional 1,740m (5,740ft) runway conveniently placed near its popular Costa del Sol holiday resorts.

The Spanish foreign office says it hopes that "holiday flights could lead towards a final solution" of the isthmus problem, which is not covered by the Treaty of Utrecht that ceded control of the 4km2 area of land.

The office of Gibraltan chief minister Peter Caruana, who is more conciliatory towards his neighbour than his predecessor, says that "there is scope for a commercial agreement with Spain over the airport".

Previous airspace liberalisation directives have "temporarily suspended" Gibraltar, but the UK Foreign Office says it did not want to set a precedent by excluding the airport from this directive.

The EC's transport directorate-general says that although there is unanimous agreement on the contents of the single sky directive, "we would like both countries to commit themselves not to block it because of Gibraltar."

Source: Flight International