Spain is to partially close 30 of the nation’s 47 state-run airports in an attempt to reduce the costs of its “white elephants” built throughout the nation during the boom years.
Some of the airports have no scheduled flights yet are fully staffed and operational in what has come to symbolise the reckless public spending projects that have left Spain crippled with debt.
Now the ministry of industry and AENA, the state-run company that controls the nation’s airports, are considering plans to reduce operating hours at three quarters of the airports to include only those when flights are due or with a skeleton staff to operate in an emergency.
Among the worst performers are Badajoz airport, near the Portuguese border in western Spain, which saw its last commercial flight take-off in January.
In Huesca, a town in northern Spain billed as the “gateway to the Pyrenees”, local authorities have subsidised the rare passengers flying in, just 2,781 of them in the whole of 2011, spending an estimated €1,600 on each traveller through its terminal last year. The fully staffed terminal in Huesca, including numerous restaurants, are open year-round even though the commercial flights bringing skiers to the region only operate during the winter months.
In all, there are 20 airports that handle fewer than 100,000 passengers a year, well below the estimated half a million they need to be profitable.
The nation’s two private airports are faring no better. Ciudad Real, which opened in 2008 with the expectation of becoming the capital’s second airport to rival Barajas to the north, was cut from scheduled routes in October last year due to a lack of demand from passengers.
To the east of the country in Castellon, the town’s airport inaugurated in March 2011 at an estimated cost of €150m (£130m), has yet to have a single plane touch down on its runway.
“We are analysing each one, airport by airport, to find where we can make cost-cutting,” said a spokesman from AENA.
He went on to warn that it was not a simple job and that three quarters of the airports could face being partially closed.