One hundred and forty miles south of Madrid on a wind-swept desert plain just outside the city of Ciudad Real lies a ghost airport. The terminal buildings are empty as sand slithers through the hallways reminiscent of a abandoned old west mining town. Signs depict an airport “under construction”, but the reality is much more grim. Construction has halted and workers are nowhere to be found. Today the airport goes by Ciudad Real Central Airport, previously known as South Madrid Airport or Don Quixote, but locals view it more as rubbish dump and an eye soar. So just how did this modern-day airport become a wasteland?
Times They Are A Changin
Ciudad Real Central Airport was the dream of over eager investors and a socialist municipality during the boom years before the most recent financial collapse. It was opened in 2009 too much hype and fanfare. The airport, which was meant to handle passenger overflow from Madrid’s Barajas Airport and compete with Barcelona airport which tripchi featured on the blog last month. The airport cost €1 billion designed to cater for Spain’s booming economy, set to serve both Madrid and Mediterranean coastal cities via a high-speed rail link. The rail line station was never built which meant traveling to the airport takes a very long time. International flights to the airport began in June 2010, but by October of that year all international routes were cancelled, and the airport filed for bankruptcy with more than €300 million of debt. In April 2012, the airport was closed after just three years in operation, as its management company went into receivership. No scheduled flights have operated since December 2011, when Spanish low-cost airline Vueling withdrew its last route.
(Above: Video is in Spanish but demonstrates the Airports downfall)
The airport has a single runway (10/28), 4,000 m (13,123 ft) long and 60 m (197 ft) wide, capable of serving domestic and international commercial flights. Part of the airport is for private and sport flight facilities. It was planned to have a maintenance area, a heliport and an industrial zone, none of which were constructed. The passenger terminal could process a maximum of 10 million passengers a year, and its cargo facilities a maximum of 47,000 tonnes a year. The two main airlines that served Ciudad Real Central were Ryanair and Vueling. Ryanair commenced flights in June 2010 with three weekly flights to London Stanstead. This flight only lasted until October 2010 when low load factors and issues with the airport management forced Ryanair to cancel the flights causing 22 jobs lost. Vueling had flights to Barcelona and Palma De Mallorca but these flights ceased in 2011 for similar reasons. In June 2012 the instrument approach hardware was removed from the airfield, this made the airport only active for VFR landings. The airport ceased operation on 13 April 2012 and was put up for auction on 9 December 2013, for a price of €100m. In July 2014 the Commercial Court of Real Ciudad put the airport back up for sale at €80 million. As of today no viable offer has been accepted on the airport.
(Above: The guys from Top Gear have some fun at an empty Ciudad Real Central)
The failure of the airport can be boiled down into three factors: poor planning, timing and location. There has been a lot of speculation that the airport was built never to succeed. In the bankruptcy filing, its noted that loans were taking out to cover construction costs but not to cover operational expenses down the road. The investors made a profit because many of them owned the construction companies that built the airport. The free wheeling lending practices of pre-2009 certainly played a part in the airports demise. The timing of the opening couldn’t have been any worse. In 2009 the world was experiencing a major financial downturn and Spain in particular was significantly effected. The housing bust was in full effect and many people who would choose to fly on Ryanair or Vueling didn’t have the disposable income to travel, they were strapped by bad mortgages and vast unemployment. The third factor is location, which could have a big effect on if the airport ever gets up and running again. Ciudad Real is 140 miles from Madrid and over 200 miles from Valencia on the coast. The city itself only has a population of 74k and is in a fairly remote area. Does it have the population to support and international airport? Without the support of the proposed railway station that would reach Madrid and the coast, one would think not.
Road to Recovery
Spain’s financial woes aren’t news to anyone. Not just airports were effected, ghost towns like Ciudad Valdeluz have thousands of homes that were built but nobody wanted to or could afford to purchase them. While Spain’s financial situation is slowly improving, Ciudad Real Airport might be a lost cause. At €1 billion to build and now on the auction block for only €80 million, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out it was bad idea. As Spain’s recovery continues to build, maybe some investor will take a gamble on the ghost airport. For an aviation enthusiast its heart wrenching to see a beautiful airport rotting away in the spanish sun. I personally hope Ciudad Real will one day become a functioning airport and we can add it to the tripchi airport app.