The existence of “ghost airports” in Spain is often quoted as an example of the ambitious over-spending by national, regional and local authorities during the years of economic boom before the crisis, but even now the same authorities are still fighting to save face and bring some of their major projects to fruition.
An example of this is the airport of Castellón, which was officially declared open three years ago this week by the then presidents of the regional government of the Comunitat Valenciana and the delegation in the province of Castellón, Francisco Camps and Carlos Fabra respectively.
Despite apparent progress now that Sr Camps has been replaced by Alberto Fabra and José Ciscar has taken over the management of Aerocas, in the intervening thirty-six months since the opening ceremony the only take-offs and landings on the airport’s runway have been those of birds, undisturbed by the commotion of incoming and outgoing aircraft.
The airport management contract has now been awarded to the Canadian holding company SNC-Lavalin, but after all the conflicts in the past concerning unfinished construction work and other delays, even this decision has been disputed: one of the other bidders for the contract, appealed against the award, and it has therefore still not been finalized. In addition, doubts have been expressed in the media concerning the appropriateness of offering the contract to Lavalin, who have been involved in cases of corruption and bribes paid to officials in the past.
All of this will delay the first flights to and from Castellón even further, and it now seems unlikely that services will be able to begin this year. Lavalin still has to become a recognized and certified airport management company before all the necessary permits can be obtained, and then the new contract stipulates a further period of five and a half months before flights will start.
After that, tests and simulations will have to be performed.
And if and when all the necessary paperwork is eventually concluded, there remains the small matter of convincing airlines to use the facility, rather than the nearby tried and tested airports of Reus and Valencia-Manises.
In some ways the story of the Castellón airport is similar to that of the new international airport in Murcia which is currently awaiting a decision from Brussels as to whether the financing package proposed by the regional government to restart the project complies with competition rules: in the case of Castellón the regional government decided to rescind their 136-million-euro contract with the construction company Conaer, but the courts obliged compensation of 120 million euros to be paid as a result.
This left the facility without a management company, and one much-publicized possibility was that of a Spanish-Libyan consortium, but unfortunately the group was never able to demonstrate that it had adequate funding and provide a bank guarantee.
But the most negative publicity has probably resulted from the expenses being incurred in maintaining the inoperative facility since the shambolic opening ceremony: 8.4 million euros in 2011 and 7.5 million in 2012, according to the regional government’s accounts.
By the terms of the new contract which has yet to be officially ratified, the government will now have to pay a maximum of 25 million euros more, with a limit of 4.5 million per year, once the airport is operational, and in the event that a passenger volume of 1.2 million per year is reached will receive a payback from SNC-Lavalin.
Always assuming, of course, that no further obstacles are encountered along the way…
Image: The completed airport. Aerocas
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