efe-epaMadrid

Spain's minister of public works and transport on Wednesday praised the International Air Transport Association's decision to open its new Global Operations Center in the country's capital, Madrid.

Íñigo de la Serna said during a parliamentary committee hearing that the announcement was "excellent news" and would contribute to a significant investment effort and boost Spain's leadership in the tourism sector.

The minister attributed IATA's final decision to what he described as "very high level of efficiency" shown at Madrid's regional European office, adding that he was confident that the establishment of the GOC would help improve Spain's current record-setting tourist figures in 2018 as it becomes a crucial operations hub for international air transport.

De la Serna specified that 82 million tourists visited Spain in 2017, making it the world's second-largest international tourist destination.

He also pointed to the potential added value of having Spain's National Airport Authority (AENA) play a supporting role that would bolster the GOC's success.

AENA is the world's leader in airport management with 249.2 million passengers in 2017, 8.2 percent more than in 2016, which De la Serna said had surpassed "even the most optimistic forecasts."

The future GOC in Madrid is set to manage flight operations on behalf of IATA's 280 member airlines, spread out across 120 countries and accounting for 83 percent of global air transport volume.

According to IATA's global passenger traffic data released in Dec. 2017, the number of total passengers in 2016 who flew with its members was as high as 2.6 billion, of which 1.1 billion were international.

Madrid was selected in 2008 to host IATA's regional European office, which has continued to expand ever since: it currently boasts a workforce of 280 and is on track to be increased by an additional 330 highly-qualified staff.

The minister said IATA's decision would create new jobs both directly and indirectly, stressing that Spain was "the perfect destination to host projects of such size and scope," from an environmental as well as an entrepreneurial point of view.

He also commended the Spanish government's "discreet but effective" role in securing Madrid's candidacy to host the IATA center.