Spain's empty airports (III): León
In North-West Spain the city of León got a brand-new airport in 1999. There had been an airfield at León for decades, but the inauguration of the new facility and the opening of commercial services at León airport was a significant improvement on the accessibility of this historical city, that tracks its origins back to an old Roman fort, that had traditionally suffered from its remoteness and its distance to the country's main urban centers.
However, I got quite surprised to learn, this autumn, that the airport had just been enlarged. I had a look at the numbers and found out that the Spanish government had invested over €80 million at the airport during the last 6 years.
This seems quite a large number taking into account the current amount of passengers the airport is handling, more so when some of the recent investments have been directed at increasing the airport's capacity. For example, LEN is now able to process 580 passengers per hour...but the total number of passengers last year was 94,282, that is around 250 passengers per day!
And looking at the route network available from the airport it looks as if this traffic is well distributed along the year, in other words, it does not seem there are extreme demand peaks that require all this extra capacity (most routes are done by Air Nostrum using regional jets).
The expansion programme was implemented with an expectation of 500,000 passengers per year in 2012...but since reaching a peak of 160,000 passengers in 2007, traffic has only decreased since then. The fact that León is going to be connected to the Spanish high speed rail network in 2012, and it will then be within 2 hours travel time of Madrid by train will not help raise the airport's traffic figures...