What happens when a major airport loses all of its traffic overnight?

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Last week I landed at the old terminal (T2) of Barcelona airport for the first time since the new terminal (T1) became operational at the end of last summer. Both terminals are actually part of the same airport (BCN), but they are physically separated, and they actually look like two separate airports, with the new terminal duplicating the capacity of the old one...and this is the problem!

All three major airline alliances have moved to the new terminal, and the old one, that used to handle over 30 million passengers a year, is now virtually empty...well, not totally, a handful of airlines, with Easyjet and Air Berlin the largest of them, and some charter flights still use it, but the drop has been dramatic (the night that I landed, my Easyjet flight was the only one on sight).

This is not totally bad for the passenger, that can enjoy plenty of space and no hassle, but it must have required a strong readjustment to the many shops and businesses that used to operate (or that still are) in the old terminal, and, most important of all, it sets a challenge upon the airport managers to find new traffic to fill the void.

Is Ryanair the solution?

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Foto by Flickr user Andy_Mitchell_UK under a Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

The Irish airline has been quick to grab some of the extra available capacity and it has already announced its landing at BCN. Ryanair has already proven it can do well in the Catalan market, that already hosts two of its bases (Girona and Reus), both within one hour drive of Barcelona and I have no doubts that it will also do well in BCN.

The airport authorities deny that Ryanair will enjoy any discount on its operating fees (a previous request that the Irish airline seems to have finally dropped), but one of the concerns remain: will Ryanair grab market-share up to the point where BCN becomes, over the long term, a Ryanair-dominated airport? this thought surely worries all those local stakeholders that over recent years have been working to make Barcelona a real contender in the European aviation scene (the lack of intercontinental routes is still BCN's main weakness).

A precedent exists and it is positive, Ryanair also moved to take spare capacity after the T-4 terminal at Madrid-Barajas was inaugurated and its presence in that airport has contributed to a more competitive scenario that has benefited travelers. However, it must be said that whereas Madrid could count with the solid presence of Iberia as the dominant carrier, the situation at BCN is a bit more volatile, and the situation of the two main carriers currently operating out of BCN, Spanair in the full-service segment and Vueling as low-cost, looks (at least on paper) a bit more fragile...They have reasons to worry when seeing Ryanair at the gates...