Ghost airports burning cash

Ghost airports burning cash

Katell Abiven - MADRID / Agence France-Presse
Ghost airports burning cash

The empty Huesca-Pirineos airport in Spain’s Huesca is seen in this Nov 2, 2011 photo. Spain has more international airports for commercial flights than any other country in Europe. AFP photo

Built during the economic boom and now deserted, Spain’s growing ranks of “ghost airports” may not be the international air hubs their creators dreamed of - but they are still burning up cash.

When Badajoz airport, near the Portuguese border in western Spain, saw its last commercial flight take off at 8:05 a.m. on Jan. 10, it became just the latest of many eerie signs of the country’s sharp reversal of fortune.

Among them is the private airport in the eastern city of Castellon, still deserted after opening in March last year. Critics complain it pays for staff and even pest control - all it lacks are flights and passengers.
“At the time the airport was a reasonable idea because it was linked to a broader tourism promotion project,” said Eva Martinez, a member of the regional parliament from the opposition Socialist Party. But the airport turned out to be too much. “The nearest airport, in Valencia, is barely 50 kilometers away,” Martinez said.

Now Castellon and the highly indebted Valencia region, which has begun raising taxes and cutting spending on services such as healthcare, is haunted by the costs of the ghost site.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if the airport had stayed as just an idea,” said Martinez. “The problem is that it is built now.”

The ghost airport runs a 7.2 million-euro budget, including 424,000 euros to pay seven staff and 90,000 euros a year for falcons and ferrets, used by airports to keep birds and rabbits away from the planes and runways. On top of all this is 30 million euros spent on advertising.

“It is an absolute scandal that in the economic situation we are in, with the Valencia region in ruin, we continue to spend money on this airport,” Martinez said.

A total of 48 public airports

Spain, where economic growth was driven for years by a housing bubble that burst in 2008, has more international airports for commercial flights than any other country in Europe: 48 public and two private.

Four of the public ones now find themselves with no regular commercial flights.

At Badajoz, the carrier Air Nostrum, owned by Iberia, announced in November that it was abandoning the airport due to the “sharp fall in reservations.”

Badajoz was built in 1990 but was hard hit by the economic slump starting from 2008. n 2011, just over 56,000 passengers used Badajoz, 8.3 percent fewer than in the previous year, according to figures from airports agency AENA.

It had logged a record of 75,000 passengers in 2007, the year before the global crisis hit. In 2010 it started work to double the size of its terminal, car parks and runways.

The ghost sites appear to be a paradox in a country whose public airports overall received 204 million
passengers in 2011 - described by AENA as the second-best results in their history.

“Airports that have less than 100,000 passengers a year, that is less that one flight a day, are really ghost airports too,” said Germa Bel, an economist at Barcelona University. “In Spain, there are some 15 airports like this.”

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