Sad story of Ciudad Real Airport – a massive white elephant – that sits abandoned in central Spain
Date added: February 18, 2013
Ciudad Real International Airport in central Spain opened in 2009 to much hype and fanfare. The airport, which was meant to handle overflow from Madrid’s Barajas airport, cost some €1.1 billion to build, including a large amount of public funding for infrastructure. The site is next to a town of just 72,000 people on the sparsely populated Castilian plain and lies more than 140 miles from Madrid. It was even named after Don Quixote, the deluded Castilian gentleman of Cervantes’s famous novel, before wiser heads renamed it simply “Central”. Although launched by local private investors, the project has been fulsomely supported by the regional government of Castilla La Mancha and was financed by CCM, the regional savings bank, or caja. There were initially intended to be huge Don Quixote themed attraction nearby, which did not materialise. Only Vueling flew there. The airport closed, as a massively loss-making white elephant, in April 2012 and now sits almost abandoned – except for some car testing. Tweet
Ciudad Real International Airport Sits Abandoned In Central Spain
7/12/2012 (Huffington Post)
Ciudad Real International Airport in central Spain opened in 2009 to much hype and fanfare. The airport, which was meant to handle overflow from Madrid’s Barajas airport, cost a whopping 1.1 billion Euros to build, according to the Financial Times, and was finally closed in April after operating for just three years.
Spain’s first privately owned commercial airport closed on the 21st of April 2012 following an investment of 500 Million Euros, and having only been operational for 3 years, after Vueling decided to cut flights to and from the facility.
The 4km long, 60 meter wide runway – designed to accomodate the Airbus A380 – has now been chosen to test the new Lexus LFA luxury car. The vehicle is designed to reach top speeds of 325 kilometers per hour and will have an accelertion of 0-100 kmh in just 3.7 seconds, making the abandoned airfield the perfect choice to perform the required tests.
Earlier this year acclaimed Spanish film Director, Pedro Almodovar, utilised the unused airport at Castellon as the setting for his latest film “Los amantes pasajeros” (Travelling Lovers).
Nice to see that Spain’s private airports are diversifying, if nothing else.
The white elephants that dragged Spain into the red
By Pascale Harter, BBC News, Spain
Europe has already bailed out Spanish banks, now Spain’s regions are clamouring for money from central government – and one of the reasons for this is their lavish spending on white elephant building projects, such as the airport at Ciudad Real, south of Madrid.
It has one of the longest runways in Europe but today there are no planes, only hawks and falcons gliding in the still heat over the arid yellow landscape of Don Quixote’s Castilla La Mancha.
Rabbits pop up around the state-of-the-art terminal, built of steel, glass and gleaming white concrete.
The airport of Ciudad Real opened in 2008 but it closed in April 2012. The luggage trolleys are now trussed together in the car park gathering dust and cobwebs.
It is not the only white elephant to stomp across Spain’s landscape. It is merely one of the herd, a monument to the country’s burst construction bubble which brought down its banks.
When a local construction magnate came up with the idea of an airport in Ciudad Real, money was sloshing around Spain for public works.
It was the 1990s and every town in every region had a grand project to set itself apart and bring in the visitors. Bilbao was getting its own Guggenheim museum, so why shouldn’t Ciudad Real have its own airport?
“We had an attack of wealth, we didn’t know how but suddenly we were rich,” says Miguel Angel Bastenier, senior columnist at the left-of-centre daily El Pais. “There was such a frenzy for investing money and people got inebriated.”
The airport in Ciudad Real was to be a private project, for private profit, but the business people behind it had no problem getting political support.
Before their collapse, Spain’s local savings banks (the cajas), were different from other banks in one crucial way – local politicians sat on the board. So companies needed political support for large projects to encourage the cajas to invest.
Both the main political parties were in favour says Santiago Moreno, a spokesman for the socialist PSOE party which controlled the regional government at the time.
“Expert studies commissioned by the airport investors said it would create 6,000 jobs and a boom for the economy. There would have been a before and after for Ciudad Real.”
The walkway from the airport to the railway station remains incomplete
But the airport opened its runways to a world in the worst recession for nearly 100 years. Caja Castilla La Mancha became the first of Spain’s local savings banks to go under in the crisis, with a rumoured 70% stake in direct and indirect investment in the airport.
Many more of Spain’s cajas have since had to merge or be taken over, exposed to toxic debts. Should they have been speculating on Spain’s construction boom? The Bank of Spain has fined two of the politicians who sat on the board of Caja Castilla La Mancha for what it calls “serious violations”.
“You might think the airport failed because of the crisis, but I am convinced that the shareholders never thought it (the airport) would work. The only profit in this airport was the building of it,” says local investigative journalist Carlos Otto.
The official bankruptcy report for the airport seems to back this up. It says:
“The loans taken out were enough to cover the construction phase but no thought was given to the investment needed to make the airport function as a business.”
Banks approached by the shareholders for further loans said they didn’t think the business model for the airport was viable, the report says.
It goes on: “The construction itself of the airport provided the first profit for the investors because they signed contracts with their own construction companies.”
“It was never run as a proper business,” said a former worker at the airport who wanted to remain anonymous. He hasn’t found another job and worries he won’t get one in Ciudad Real – where everyone knows everyone – if he speaks out about how the airport was run.
“We had races on anything that had wheels,” he told us. “We even had races on the floor-polishing machines – we were all so bored. Some people used to go out to pick asparagus or catch rabbits…”
There was little to do. There were international flights from London Stansted, and within Spain from Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca. But in its last year not even one flight a day landed on the 4.2km runway, designed – ambitiously – to service the new Airbus 380, the world’s largest passenger airliner.
Carlos Otto believes the private investors who pushed the airport project assumed the regional government would ensure its profitability by subsidising airlines to fly there.
The regional government is now controlled by Spain’s Popular Party which accuses its predecessor of wasting millions of euros. It is still not known how much the whole airport venture actually cost. Estimates run from 356 million euros to one billion euros.
This lack of transparency is one of the problems that led to Spain’s economic crisis according to David Cabo, representative of Civio, a foundation that lobbies for freedom of information.
“Public servants are not used to being monitored, their accountability isn’t common in Spain. It’s terrible because you have many opaque layers of government and each of those control public money.”
Juan Jose Toribio, an economist with Spain’s IESE business school, says that to tackle Spain’s problem of white elephant projects you first have to tackle the country’s sacred cows – the semi-autonomous regions.
“Regional governments enjoy the possibility of spending and inaugurating public works but they don’t run the political risk or cost of raising taxes. Someone should be held responsible for this and perhaps we should return to a much more centralised system.”
But even with an absolute majority in parliament, the Popular Party may find centralisation harder to achieve than austerity.
At Cruz Prado school in Ciudad Real, daily drop-off resembles a picket line, with parents letting off fire-crackers and shouting through loud-hailers. They are demonstrating against the local government for failing to finish construction of a new canteen and playground. For the last two years the project has remained a wreck of rubble – stalled because the money has run out for the next generation.
One of the parents, Milagros Coronado, says she feels angry – and guilty.
“I shouldn’t because it wasn’t my decision to build the airport, but I feel guilty for having liked the idea so much. I would like to have an airport, I would like to have everything, but I definitely, definitely need a proper school for my children.”
From the central square of the village of Ballesteros de Calatrava, you can see the airport. During the building of it, the now-deserted streets here were abuzz with expectation – people thought this huge project would bring jobs and a better life. Carmen Delgado, who lives here, says people were pressured to sell their land, and some of her family’s fields were expropriated for the airport.
“Land is everything for us. If you have land you can have potatoes, tomatoes, animals, olives to make oil… And now? We’ve been robbed of our way of life, and for what?”
Airports are usually noisy places, but at Ciudad Real in central Spain the silence on a weekday morning is broken only by the sound of birdsong.
As Spain struggles to cut its budget deficit to avert another eurozone sovereign debt crisis, and as its politicians prepare for local elections, Ciudad Real Central – one of the country’s largest and most modern international airports – has become a monument to the financial folly born of the property boom and exacerbated by regional politics.
“It’s the silent airport,” says an airport employee, finishing her coffee in the cavernous departure hall. It is a Thursday, and there are no passengers because not a single flight is scheduled to depart.
“An airport in the middle of the desert. It’s scandalous,” says Lorenzo Bernaldo de Quirós, partner at Freemarket Corporate Intelligence and a fierce critic of what he sees as excessive devolution leading to waste of public money. “Every province wants an airport, just as they all want a university.”
One airline – Vueling, the low-cost arm of Iberia – runs two flights a week to Paris and four to Barcelona, with help from regional government subsidies. In winter, private jets occasionally bring wealthy hunters to shoot partridge and deer.
To critics of Spain’s devolved system of government, with its 17 autonomous regions, 50 provinces and 8,100 municipalities, the airport was a predictable but avoidable fiasco.
The site is next to a town of just 72,000 people on the sparsely populated Castilian plain and lies more than 140 miles from Madrid. It was even named after Don Quixote, the deluded Castilian gentleman of Cervantes’s famous novel, before wiser heads renamed it simply “Central”.
The airport, which has been in bankruptcy proceedings since mid-2010, officially cost €450m ($620m), but the bill reaches about €1bn when publicly funded infrastructure and running costs so far are included.
Although launched by local private investors, the project has been fulsomely supported by the regional government of Castilla La Mancha and was financed by CCM, the regional savings bank, or caja. In 2009, CCM became the first Spanish cajato be rescued during this economic crisis. It received €3bn in aid from a deposit guarantee fund, now the airport’s largest shareholder, and was absorbed in a merger backed by €1.5bn from the public bank rescue fund.
“In Spain, given the tremendous growth of recent years, people thought that anything could be done, that it would be easy and quick and would make lots of money,” says Francisco Cañizares, a municipal councillor in nearby Ciudad Real and a member of the right-wing Popular party (PP), which opposes the Socialists currently in charge of the central government and the region of Castilla La Mancha.
“In principle it was a private airport, but the ones who put in most money were public, essentially CCM.”
PP leaders, who are expected to do well in this year’s regional elections against their Socialist rivals, sense the public mood is turning against waste and bureaucracy in Spain’s multi-tiered system of government. “Spain can’t compete in Europe or the world with autonomous regions aspiring to become mini-nations,” said José María Aznar, former PP prime minister, recently.
Bond market investors appear to have accepted that Spain has brought its central government deficit under control, but they are now focusing on the growing burden of regional and municipal debt.
When new regional governments take over after the May elections, says Mr Bernaldo de Quirós, they are likely to find the accounts in worse shape than previously believed, as happened in Greece in 2009 and in the Spanish region of Catalonia at the end of last year. “People will question the reliability of the public accounts,” he says.
Defenders of the status quo insist Spain is no worse than most other European countries. “The level of development that Spain has now would have been impossible without the autonomous regions, because it’s impossible to run a country with the centralised territorial system of the 19th century,” says Javier Burón Cuadrado of law firm Cuatrecasas, Gonçalves Pereira, who advises the association of municipalities and provinces.
Even the airport has its defenders. They point out that it was conceived when Madrid’s Barajas airport was congested, was supposed to have a high-speed railway station, and was opened in 2008 in the depths of the economic crisis. José María Barreda, Socialist premier of Castilla La Mancha, insists the airport’s moment will come, and denies it was a “get-rich-quick scheme”.
Meanwhile, tranquillity reigns at the sleepy airport. There is, briefly, a noise like that of an approaching aircraft. But it is only the whoosh of a high-speed train on its way from Seville to Madrid.
Another privately operated green field Spanish airport that got off to a bad start – in this case with no air service at – is Castellon, on the Costa Azahar, north of Valencia. It is another airport that took an age to transfer from the architect’s desk to opening day; 12 years in this instance. At least the costs were much less than at Ciudad Real – EUR155 million.
Castellon Airport is in a province – Castellon – that was the only one in Spain without its own airport. It began as a project with assistance from Brussels Airport until that company withdrew from external activities after it was taken over by Macquarie Airports. It is a public-private partnership under the banner of Sociedad Aeropuerto de Castellon. Shareholders include property group Lubasa with a 50% shareholding, Abertis (5%) and Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas SA. In 2007 a 50:50 joint venture was put together by Caja Madrid (one of Spain’s many savings banks) and Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas (FCC) to group all of the infrastructure assets owned by the two partners, as Global Via Infraestructuras, which has the 50-year PPP contract for the operation and maintenance of the new Castellon Airport and a 45% shareholding.
The project was beset by political and licensing issues. Building progress was slow even before the recession set in but was completed earlier this year (25-Mar-2011). At that stage the airport was officially ‘opened’ with a 2700m x 45m runway, a 7000 sq m aircraft parking stand and a 9600sqm passenger terminal. But with no services.
The airport and residential developments are situated near Vilanova, a 60-minute drive (60km) north of Valencia, whose own airport at Manises is to the west of the city. There are several good reasons for placing a new airport here. Apart from Valencia there is no alternative until Reus, about 150 km to the north, and none inland as far as Zaragoza (also 150km) and Madrid, 200km away. The coastal region, the 120km long Costa del Azahar, is quickly becoming one of the most sought after locations for property as prices are still comparatively low in relation to the more established regions. On the other hand, and as with Castile La Mancha, this is not a heavily populated part of Spain once outside Valencia’s northern suburbs.
The forecast was that it would attract domestic and international network and low-cost airlines and handle 600,000 passengers in the first year but that forecast has gone awry as Ryanair patched up differences it had with the Valencian authorities and turned that airport into a 35-city base. The parallels with Cuidad Real and Madrid are clear, as are the warnings to all airport operators never to expect too much from a potential relationship with the Irish LCC.
No more can you judge a city by its airport, than a book by its cover. But perhaps you can judge a Eurocrisis by an airport and if so, Barajas, is surely where you’d start.
And judgment commences even before landing at Madrid’s absurd, bloated monstrosity – designed by Britain’s Richard Rogers.
From the air the still sun-parched high Spanish plateau is crisscrossed by empty, unfinished motorways, slip roads reaching out in hope across the dun terrain, only to end abruptly, nowhere.
Ghost highways take nobody to half-built groups of highrise flats. Around them, mantis-like, tall, silent, motionless cranes do nothing at all. Clumps of empty apartment blocks where the builders clocked off months and sometimes years ago.
Concrete apron Barajas Airport itself, one giant folly to Euro-borrowing on a grand scale against a dream that has never come true. Quite probably never could.
Arriving means a long bus journey over the concrete plain to a terminal so over-lit and underused it feels unreal. Passengers face a major hike however they come, long concourses merely bring you to several escalators up or down. They in turn will only deposit you at a transit train.
An ode to inefficiency Then its a journey by train – perhaps a mile or more – and a two-way underground track, to another terminal. More long walks. More escalators. Lifts. More signs. Walk. And walk. Escalators again. Walk.
Then a colossal baggage reclaim area which alone would engulf a Heathrow terminal. I counted 18 carousels. Eighteen. You could fit several football pitches in here.
Waste of space Overlit, overheated, underused, underwhelmed. And inefficient: the baggage has so far to come you’ve inevitably now got a long wait in this vast, empty place where the wasting of space on a massive scale appears to have been the central stipulation of the design brief.
Sound like I’m moaning? Not a bit. I’m fascinated. In a country facing an almost inevitable bail-out for living beyond any notion of economic reality all this is a gift for any visiting reporter.
And they tell me on Twitter there are any number of equally pointless airports across Spain: Ciudad Real, Malaga, Castillon – all making wonderful architectural statements (whilst actually being punishment centres for human self-loading cargo).
No, you cannot judge a book by its cover but you can see the broken dream of the Euro in the gleaming ghost carousels of Barajas.
Ranks of ‘ghost airports’ grow as Spain’s economic boom dissipates
about Badajoz airport, near the Portuguese border
January 16, 2012, 12:59am
MADRID (AFP) — Built during a 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 Tuesday morning, 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,” says 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 (30 miles) away,” Martinez says.
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,” says Martinez.
”The problem is that it is built now,” she adds, detailing the 7.2 million-euro budget a ghost airport runs, which must be paid for ”even when it is not functioning”.
This includes 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 says.
Spain, where economic growth was driven for years by a building 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” in ”the economic crisis that has affected the Spanish domestic market”.
Badajoz was built in 1990 but was hard hit by the economic slump from 2008.
In 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 worst of the financial and economic crisis struck. In 2010 it started work to double the size of its terminal, car parks and runways.
The ghost sites appear 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.
The first of the two private airports, in Ciudad Real, south of Madrid, opened in 2008 and may close now following its last flight by budget airline Vueling in October.
Apart from these, ”airports that have less than 100,000 passengers a year, that is less that one flight a day, are really ghost airports too,” says Germa Bel, an economist at Barcelona University.
”In Spain, there are some 15 airports like this,” adds Bel.
”There is certainly going to be a lot of debate about what to do with them. It is quite annoying to close an operating theatre in a hospital and keep open an airport with 30 or 40 people working there and no planes landing.”
Huesca (Spain) – No noise in the hall, not a customer check-in counters: in Huesca, in the Spanish Pyrenees, a ghost airport awaits travelers hypothetical symbol of a country in crisis after all-is built during the housing bubble.
The parking lot about 150 seats, only a few cars are parked in autumn morning.Are those of the twenty employees still there.
In the small building that still seems new, a maid cleans the bathroom, while outside a machine sweeps sidewalks. The main activity of Huesca airport, which opened in 2007, is now in its maintenance.
His case is not isolated. Spain, whose growth has been worn for years by the construction bubble before it broke out in 2008, the largest number of airports in Europe with international trade: 48 public, 2 private .
Some have only a handful of flights, as Lleida (Catalonia) and Cordoba (Andalusia).
The two private airports are also in bad shape: the Castellon (Valencia region), opened in March, is desert, having asked permission to late flights, the Ciudad Real (Castilla La Mancha), opened in 2008, could soon close. It hosted its last flight, the company Vueling end of October.
In total, “there are twenty airports with fewer than 100,000 passengers” per year, while 500,000 is the threshold level to be profitable, calculates Germa Bel, an economist at the University of Barcelona, among them “only 2 or 3 could be justified to fight against isolation “of the Canary Islands, for example.
Fifteen passengers in July, zero in August, four in September if Huesca airport scrapes, it is thanks to the use of private aircraft. The last commercial flight took off in April.
Initially designed for the ski season, the infrastructure, which cost € 40 million, has suffered bankruptcy of the airline Pyrenair local and Chinese pilot school Top Fly.
With 20,000 passengers in four years, this amounts to 2,000 euros of public money per traveler, excluding running costs.
“It was designed without solid business plan,” admitted Rafael Fernandez de Alarcon, director of public works to the regional government of Aragon.
Especially since Huesca, which has 50,000 inhabitants, “is only 70 kilometers from the airport, one of Saragossa.”
For Germa Bel, this is the perfect example of excess infrastructure suffered by Spain “in Huesca, there is an airport, a line of TGV and motorway “.
Because the country is also the world number two kilometers of high speed, behind China and the European leader in kilometers of highways.
“All one hundred kilometers, an airport must, for safety reasons,” Huesca and can serve as a basis for any relief in the Pyrenees replies Fernandez de Alarcon.
But he added: “It is necessary in a rich Europe, such as 2000, when the airport was considered, and it is questioned when Europe is in economic crisis.”
“Today I do not would fund” airport, he admits.
“In Spain there was a housing bubble and that of public works, and after the bubbles and over-investment, has a long digestion period and payment of the bill,” Mr. Bel slice.
A Huesca, the public manager airports Aena and the region are working to revive the dormant airport: the official message is that it does not close, but to be profitable, it must attract pilot schools.
The regional government is negotiating with “three projects” of this type is called “safe and optimistic about the future.” According to him, the airport could accommodate even “some charter flights.”