Airports: Barcelona vs. Madrid, exchanging thrones in Spain? (guest post by Adrià Alsina)

The crisisin Spain is hitting Madrid-Barajas Airport harshly. The number of passengers of Spain’s main airport dropped by 14% in May 2013. This is setting dramatic path that could lead to two historical defeats within this year.

First is that Barcelona-El Prat could overcome Madrid-Barajas by passengers in August. That would be a first-time-ever defeat for Madrid. Barcelona is holding up its numbers thanks to foreign tourism and the all-out rise of Vueling, the Catalan-based IAG franchise. Madrid is suffering from the plunge in national and business passengers and the decline of Spain’s old flag carrier, Iberia, now also owned by IAG.

Both slots reservations by airlines and actual passenger trends suggest Barcelona-El Prat could manage around 4 million passengers this August, while Madrid-Barajas would fall slightly behind. This would be the first time on record and may set a path of Barcelona routinely overcoming Barajas in summer, just like Palma de Mallorca did with Barcelona historically.

Whether Barcelona can actually become Spain’s first airport in the near future only time will tell.

The second defeat is a dire one for Spanish officials. In 2006 President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero opened the new, state-of-the-art Terminal 4 (T4). Iberia and the Oneworld alliance quickly moved to the new terminal, which became Spain’s undisputed hub. Officials forecasted that Madrid could easily reach up to 70 million passengers by 2010 and become Europe’s fourth hub.

However, those optimist forecasts never became reality. Madrid managed over 50 million passengers in 2008 and 2011 but annualized data suggest it is now stuck around its 2005 mark of 41 million, before the opening of the T4. Too bad for this truly amazing building, designed by Richard Rogers, that cost Spanish taxpayers over 6.000 million euros to build. 

 About the author: 

Adrià Alsina works as a consultant for the World Bank in Washington, D.C.

He has worked for a number of international development organisations including the OECD, the Inter-American Development Bank and the African Development Bank. He is an aviation enthusiast ever since his parents took him out to eat an ice cream and watch a few planes taking off from an old Barcelona Airport terraza in the early 80's.