Aviation in Fuerteventura
An Article By Bernie Power with The Voice Fuerteventura
When you fly in to Fuerteventura airport you could be amazed at how big it is…. but it wasn’t always this way. Here are few facts about our island’s aviation history and its airports.
The first airfield was laid out in Jandia in the south of the island and was locally known as the Winter airfield, after a local engineer and agriculturalist ‘Gustav Winter’ who owned a villa nearby. It operated from 1944 until it was prohibited in 1950. Not to be confused with the nearby, much newer Puerto de la Cruz airfield which was laid out in 1963. It is just a strip, has no buildings and is rarely used as it is reserved for military aircraft. By 1940, with war raging all around, many defences went up. You can still see the coastal fortifications between the airport and Puerto del Rosario today. There was also a need for an airport here, so a site at Tefia was selected because of its hard, flat land and it’s distance from the sea and the British navy. You can find it, or where it was, behind the windmill next to the eco-museum in Tefia.
The first plane arrived in 1942 and the airport remained a military airport until 1946, when Iberia airlines began flying in, once a week, on a Canary island route. By 1950 it was open to all flights and received 170 flights and 769 passengers in that year. Flying into Tefia must have been a culture shock for many people back then and then the long drive on mainly stone roads to the capital, was pretty arduous journey. If you see Tefia now, there are many more buildings than there were back then and the crosswinds became a major problem as the planes got bigger. In 1952, the decision was made to close it down and it was taken over by the Ministry of Justice and used as an agricultural prison, (Colonia de vagos y maleantes). The people held there were generally Communists, anti-fascists, various dissidents, and homosexual men. There was stiff local opposition to the prison, but it went ahead anyway.
The next airport to be laid out was to be at Los Estancos and from 1952 –54 there was a frenzy of land snatching and ownership disputes, instantly making the little rural village of the same name a big deal airport town. You will pass it on the way to Puerto del Rosario and you may notice the restored buildings strangely placed to the right and to the left of the road, within the technical park. This was caused by a strange phenomenon, idea or whatever you want to call it? where the runway actually crossed the main road! It was manned by a soldier who, when signalled by the tower with a flag or whistle, used to jump into action and stop the traffic. By 1955 there were two runways, and, after a few near misses, the airport took over the control of the road block. By 1960 lack of maintenance was causing the pilots concern as the runways had never been paved and were just bare rock and often potholed. By 1966 there were 12 flights a day and it was obvious the place could not cope so another solution was needed.
The Fuerteventura airport you arrived at is called El Mattoral, after the area it is located in. It was opened in Sept 1969 and on the very same day it opened, Los Estancos was closed. It re-opened for a short while in 1971, whilst El Mattoral was being upgraded, but then it was abandoned. For 35 years it stood closed and unused. It attracted all kinds of unwanted visitors such as squatter, junkies, vandals and illegal dumpers and remained that way until 2007, when it was painstakingly restored to its former glory. It was intended to be an art gallery, museum, tourist centre and hotel. If you find yourself out that way, then stop and have a look as it has a fabulous barbeque area at the side that you can visit. And, while you are there, you can imagine the ex-Nazi Junkers planes which were bought by the airlines, landing in front of you, just across the road! It is a far cry from our enormous new upgraded airport that you see today. An airport that we hope will cope for many years to come.