Spain’s Flights of Fancy

Spain has 46 million people but no fewer than 52 commercial airports. Germany has 28 airports serving a population of 81 million. AENA, a state-run company, runs 47 airports of which only 8 make a profit. Yet, despite the financial crisis and poor results, Spain is flying in the face of common sense by building even more.

The 30 Minuts team has filmed airports with very few passengers, ones that have no flights; some that are closed and others that are open but have no planes. The programme looks at six airports in Alguaire, Huesca, Albacete, Ciudad Real, Castelló and Murcia. Alguaire is the Catalan Government’s one and only airport. It opened in 2010 with flights to Paris, Frankfurt, Milan, Barcelona and the Balearic Islands. There were also charter flights taking Spanish skiers to the Pyrenees. Now all that is left is a weekly flight to Mallorca.

Huesca had one of Spain’s oldest glider airfields. In 2004, it was decided to build an airport. There were plans for flights to Madrid, Barcelona, the Canary Islands and more but it all turned out to be pie in the sky. In all these years, only one tour operator flew in a dribble of skiers, but it went bust. Huesca now has no commercial flights. Worse still, glider pilots now find their wings clipped by the airport’s strict regulations. Even so, the airport remains open.

Albacete airport is open but has no commercial flights. The party running the local council changed after the last elections from PSOE to PP. The incoming administration cancelled a €3 m contract with an airline to provide a shuttle to Barcelona. Now there are no flights at all.

Castelló airport was opened a year ago without planes, permits or flights. Nothing has changed. The airport is private but run by a public company whose shareholders are the Valencian Government and the Castelló County Council. The airport was a personal initiative of Carlos Fabra, President of the Castelló County Council for 16 years.

Murcia, has two international airports just 30 kilometres apart. One is in San Javier, an airport that serves both military and commercial flights. Recently, Spain’s central government spent €67 m to make both uses compatible. The airport is one of the few run by AENA that makes a profit. The other airport is Corvera, built by the Murcian government and licensed to a private company under a €200 m public guarantee. The Spanish government wanted to keep both airports running but the Murcian government only wanted the one in Corvera. Now the Corvera airport, which is still being built, will be Murcia’s only civil airport. Spain’s Air Force will have San Javier and its expensive civilian trappings all to itself.

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