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Castille la Mancha airport closes

Mon 31st Oct 2011
Castille la Mancha airport closes

The first Private Airport in Spain saw it's last flight depart this weekend after barely three years in operation.

The Don Quixote Airport at Ciudad Real opened in December 2008, in an ambitious bid to be considered an 'overflow' airport for Madrid, located some 200kms away.

Problems began even before the airport opened, with the owners, CR Aeropuertos, coming into trouble with the Department of Environment for building in a designated ares of protection for wildlife, together with further complaints that almost half of the construction was illgeal.

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The owners were forced into taking loans from Caja Castille la Mancha in order to complete the project, which opened with debts of 1.7 Million Euros, which had risen to 290 Million Euros by the time that the last flight departed. Caja Castille la Mancha itself needed a 9 Billion Euro bailout from the Bank of Spain just 3 months after the airport opened.

The airport ambitiously aimed to serve some 7 Million passengers a year - by comparison Tenerife South welcomes 7 Million Passengers per year and Alicante 9 Million. Ciudad Real managed to attract Air Nostrum, Air Berlin and Vueling to fly there, thanks largely to the AVE high speed train connection, and one of the longest runways in Europe. However, the reality was that it could barely scrape 500'000 passengers per year, with many flights leaving the airport empty.

The Don Quixote airport at Ciudad Real was just one of six similar private airport projects which began during the property and construction boom years, with others at varying stages of construction in Cataluña, Aragón, Valencia, Murcia (Corvera) and Andalucía. Don Quixote was the only one of these to open, but it's closure on Saturday leaves a question mark over the other projects.

During the property and construction boom years the country invested some 1.5 Billion Euros in building new airports, including Castellon, which opened earlier this year at the cost of 150 Million Euros, but has still not received it's first flight. Huescar has also been criticised for failing to attract interest from passengers and airlines alike, leaving months at a time between arrivals to the airport.

Spain has a total of 59 currently operational commercial airports to serve the 46 Million Head of population, whereas by comparison the UK has 25 commercial airports serving 62 Million Head of population.

It has been suggested that the problem is due to Spain's fragmented government, with each of the 50 Provinces insisting on having their own airport in order not to be at a disadvantage with trade and tourism.