Beja airport in Portugal – another that has virtually no passengers
Beja Airport is an unused Portuguese airport that opened its doors to civilian flights -having for years been a military base, on April 15, 2011, having scheduled several charter flights to the United Kingdom and to Cape Verde. In spite of being the only Portuguese airport in the Portuguese Alentejo region, with an area comparable to the size of Belgium, it has not attracted low cost carriers. Ryanair is not interested in it. Other low cost carriers are also not interested and prefer their existing bases. It has about one flight every two days at most, by one company. As of September 2012, plans to reconvert it into cargo use are under discussion. The only attractions in the area are a dam and an ostrich farm, in addition to some historical attractions in the relatively small local town. Yet another airport expanded at great cost, for passengers who did not materialise – with similarities to Castellon and Ciudad Real airports in Spain.
Wikipedia says of Beja Airport:
Beja Airport (Portuguese: Aeroporto de Beja) is an unused Portuguese airport that opened doors to civilian flights on April 15, 2011, having scheduled several charter flights to the United Kingdom and to Cape Verde. In spite of being the only Portuguese airport in Alentejo—the biggest Portuguese region, with an area comparable to the size of Belgium—the airport failed to attract the attention of low-cost carriers and has never had scheduled regular flights. As of September 2012, plans to reconvert it into cargo use are under discussion. It may possibly be a logistics platform between the goods that are shipped to the nearby Port of Sines and the whole of Europe.
Beja Airport, located 9 km northwest of Beja is 150 km away from Lisbon, 120 kilometres ) from Faro and less than 60 km from Spain.
An airbase was established on 21 October 1964, originally built to serve as a training facility for the West German Air Force, due to airspace limitations within West Germany. Until 1993 it was used particularly for weapons training, and in 1987 the Portuguese Air Force’s 103 Squadron and its Lockheed T-33 and Northrop T-38 aircraft was relocated from Montijo. After their arrival, the base started to host a mixed array of fixed and rotary-wing trainers, as well as maritime patrol aircraft.
The airbase has also served as one of the Space Shuttle landing sites.
In 2011 a new civilian terminal was built and Beja became a dual-use military-civilian airport, aiming to attract low cost carriers. The inaugural flight to Praia, Cape Verde, took place on 13 April 2011.
However, after a few promotional flights which took place in 2011, no airline has decided to schedule regular flights to Beja Airport. As of September 2012, the future of the airport remains uncertain. The authorities are studying the possibility of reconverting the airport to cargo use.
6.4.2012 (CAPA – Centre for Aviation)
Beja airport, Portugal
With much of the world – and especially Europe – still embroiled in recession or economic slowdown and with a lengthy and growing list of failing new airports in Spain (Ciudad Real, Castellon, Lleida, Huesca, Badajoz etc) and failing existing ones in the UK (Plymouth, Coventry, Durham), this would hardly appear to be the time to open or commence construction on a new one, outside of the major metropolitan areas.
But that is exactly what has happened at Beja in Portugal, which has been designated a ‘LCC base’ – and what will happen at Kassel in Germany by 2013.
Beja Airport opened to civilian flights in Apr-2011, having been delayed for over a year by the general and Portuguese economic crises (echoes of Castellon and Ciudad Real) with charter flights to the UK and to Cape Verde, the latter once a Portuguese colony and with a high number of Cape Verdean nationals resident in Portugal. The initial UK charters were operated by Sunvil, a tour operator that has specialised in ‘fringe’ tourist regions for several decades and the Cape Verde flights by national carrier TACV.
Alentejo province (red) in Portugal
The northern part of the province lies close to the capital (Lisbon) region at 150km. The tourist-oriented Faro Airport (120km), a base for Ryanairwith 31 routes, lies to the south, but to the east the only directly competing airports in Spain are the underused Badajoz (Extremedura province) and Ciudad Real (Castile La Mancha) and the rather more successful Seville. The Spanish border is only 60km distant. Ironically, the location of Ciudad Real on the trans-Iberian peninsula Valencia-Lisbon highway was intended to make it the airport choice for low-cost travel in this vast but thinly populated trans-border area. The closure of Ciudad Real makes clear how that dream ultimately fell far short of expectations.
Building tourism on ostriches and a dam
The intention right from the start was that Beja Airport aimed to attract LCCS to develop local tourism in the vast region that surrounds the Alqueva dam, which is the biggest artificial lake in Europe. This is not a tourist area per se, it is undeveloped (which carries its own attractions) and in fact valuable prehistoric engravings were destroyed during the construction of the dam. It was best known for being the site of Europe’s largest ostrich farm!
Since then, the Government, far from burying its head in the sand, has made a concerted effort to get tourist initiatives under way around the dam site, which is dry, hot and remote from national and transnational (EU) governments and economies. Beja itself has an interesting Roman, Moorish and Christian history with many fortified castles and a population fortified by its many wines. A new golf resort will open by the end of 2012.
The airport also aspired to be a logistic platform handling goods shipped to the Port of Sines, to and from Europe. The port, on the Atlantic coast between Lisbon and Faro, is an open deepwater facility with no restrictions and leads the Portuguese port sector in volume of goods handled as well as being the largest medium for the import of oil, coal and gas. It is connected by both road and rail and has a 2000ha logistics zone.
Beja the longest runway in Portugal
Beja Airport exists courtesy of a decision by the German Air Force to build a training base there, owing to airspace limitations in Germany. Subsequently it was used by the Portuguese Air Force. That was the case until 2011 when a new civilian terminal was built in a EUR33 million investment from state airport operator ANA, and the airport was designated as an alternative to Lisbon and Faro airports. That designation was reinforced by Portugal’s Ministry for Economy and Employment, which announced in Feb-2012 that it would “transform” the airport into a LCC hub.
In fact, with a 3450m runway (the longest in Portugal) that was designated as an emergency landing strip for the NASA Space Shuttle, Beja could handle much more than LCCs; but there is barely the demand for that genre, let alone widebody service. Sunvil and TACV remain the only regular passenger operators and there are no known regular cargo services.
Beja Airport’s new, attractive, but relatively unused air terminal
Unattended check-in counters due to no winter services
It is hard to imagine either of Europe’s leading LCCs investing in Beja. Ryanair is heavily committed to Faro, which is right in the middle of one of Europe’s preferred coastal vacation centres, and would not be swayed by an inland reservoir surrounded by ostriches.
easyJet, which unashamedly prefers primary airports, has extensive operations at both Lisbon and Faro. Air Berlin might be a possibility, feeding traffic though its Palma hub as it did at Ciudad Real but more likely it would be discouraged by that experience; the population level is not dissimilar to that found in Castile La Mancha. Both Air Berlin and Adria Airways did operate a charter series in the summer of 2011, along with a German tour operator. Vueling might be tempted to seek new locations beyond the Spanish boundary but sustainable routes might be hard to find.
There are certainly high hopes for Beja Airport, and it does benefit from being within ANA’s portfolio, rather than a hopeful private or public/private project as was often the case in Spain, but it is hard to get away from the concern that a similar fate lies in wait for it as the Spanish airports in a country where infrastructure projects were also frequently given the green light too quickly in the heady early days of the 2000 decade.
2 April 2012 (Algarve Daily News)
The vice-chairman of Ryanair is no longer interested in operating from the airport near Beja. “Beja is far from Lisbon. It’s of no interest to Ryanair,” said Michael Cawley. The vice-president of the low-cost carrier said that “there is nothing beyond the airport,” which is attractive to passengers.
Beja airport currently has a single charter operator using the German airline TUIfly.
The next eight operating flights between the airports of Hannover and Stuttgart via Beja will be held between 14 and 28 April, every two days. Each of the eight charter flights carry an average of 150 passengers, mostly from one German insurance company and heading for Vila Vita Parc, Armacao de Pera and Herdade dos Grous near Beja. Both destinations are ultimately by the company.
Beja airport, which was once an airbase, began operating on April 13, 2011. In December last year the Secretary of State for Public Works, Transport and Communications, Sergio Monteiro said there are bills to pay to the state and to the Development Company of Beja Airport.
At the time, the government challenged mayors, legislators and related parties in the Alentejo to create a working group to come up with a solution for the development of the site. The government has demanded urgency in the creation of this working group.
Beja airport owned by ANA boasts an increase of passenger traffic through the airport of 495% over the last year. Its sounds very impressive when you read it like that, but in face is a paltry slither of an increase from a miniscule 205 passenger foot traffic through the Beja airport last year to 1,221 passenger foot traffic this year. Thats an amazing 102 passengers using the airport every month? Don’t get crushed in the stampede.
There are tiny airports in the Scottish Hebrides with more passenger traffic than these numbers, or small regional airport situated in the middle of the Arctic tundra in Siberia, who are ANA trying to fool? These figures are abysmal?