Spain's empty airports saga: the battle for Murcia airport

Doesn't look that old...Picture:  Pillip Capper  via Wikipedia

Doesn't look that old...Picture: Pillip Capper via Wikipedia

One of the most visible signs of Spain's infrastructure overinvestment of the past few decades is the existence of many underused or empty airports all over the Spanish territory.

This matter is taking a new twist though, as regional authorities in the Murcia region, in Southeastern Spain have moved to take control of one of the local airports, that was originally meant to be operated by a consortium led by construction firm Sacyr.

At the center of the dispute is Murcia's brand-new airport at Corvera, an airport that, although built by private investors, had been strongly supported by the regional government, that guaranteed the €200M in loans that were invested in its construction. The problem is that the airport has yet to start operations and the regional government has withdrawn the concession from the private group that was expecteing to manage it. So a legal battle is now raging over who is accountable for the €200M debt, quite a significant sum for one of Spain's smallest regions, and one that has also been among the hardest hit by the construction and real estate crisis.

Setting aside the legal aspects of the dispute, one of the main challenges to the commercial feasibility of Corvera airport is its proximity to the older Murcia San Javier airport, a military airfield that has been functioning as Murcia's ariport for many decades. The proximity of much larger Alicante airport doesn't help either... 

So, how to make sure Corvera airport gets at least some traffic: closing down the old San Javier airport, of course...How no one thought about it before? But interestingly enough, San Javier airport was getting significant amounts of investment as late as 2011, when a second runway was inaugurated.

The latest plan calls for leaving San Javier for the military and move all commercial activity to the new Corvera airport, but someone has to pay for recent investment at San Javier (€54M), and this is what they are now trying to work out, but it looks like the Spanish government through the Ministry of Defence is going to be the one paying the bill...

In short, another story for the endless saga of "Spain's empty airports"..wondering whether I should create a specific category on this blog.