What next for Girona airport?
Transavia is currently the only airline other than Ryanair operating at GRO
Girona has been possibly the fastest growing in Spain during the last decade. From a sleepy charter-only airport, GRO has gone on to become one of Ryanair's major bases in the continent...or was it?
In fact, GRO is now going through a delicate moment, and the responsible is none other than the same airline that helped it get out of obscurity: Ryanair. The Irish airline started operating from Barcelona last September and it has been opening new routes since then, most of Ryanair's traffic at GRO are actually originating or have as final destination the city of Barcelona, an airport that has now plenty of spare capacity for the Irish airline to grow.
Ryanair's base at Girona will go from 11 to 6 aircraft permanently-based aircraft
In a recent post at AirObserver's blog I already mentioned how its arrival to Barcelona has strengthen considerably Ryanair's bargaining power at Girona. And the Irish airline has put all this market power to work: a new agreement has supposedly been reached with the Catalan authorities, providing €7.5M to keep Ryanair at Girona until. But the recent government change in Catalonia has changed spending priorities and now is uncertain whether the agreement is going to be implemented or not.
According to some reports, Spanair is being asked by the Catalan government (that has been supporting it through direct capital injections) to take over some of the routes previously operated by Ryanair, namely the Girona-Madrid one. This move would not make any sense to me.
For a start, I doubt it would work without heavy public subsidies. Spanair already tried operating this route a few years ago and it did not work. Why should it be different this time? and if subsidies are to be paid, why then all the fuss about paying them to Ryanair? the Irish airline was at least capable of bringing to Girona a volume of traffic that no one else in the industry can match.
But if we then look at the relationship between Spanair and Catalan public institutions we have that public money has been used to support this ailing airline on the grounds that it intends to develop a hub-and-spoke operation at Barcelona El Prat (BCN) that might, in the long run, make of BCN a major European airport. Making Spanair fill the gap at Girona while Ryanair is itself increasing its presence at BCN would be a total departure from this strategy!
This situation might be mitigated if Girona airport had the autonomy to set its own fees and pursue a more aggresive commercial policy (Mr.O'Leary himself said recently that Girona's fees were too high to compete effectively with Barcelona El Prat. If we are to judge from the fact that Ryanair is currently expanding at BCN despite not getting any subsidy) that includes actively looking for new routes and airlines.
At this point in time the only non-Ryanair regular route at GRO is Transavia's to Rotterdam. Have the airport managers any other option on the table? It would be a good idea to start looking for some...