Progress is being made towards opening the ghost airport in Castellón following the adjudication of the management contract to Canadian multinational SNC-Lavalin, but it would be hard to say that this progress is being achieved smoothly, and the regional government will still be uncomfortable about certain aspects of the contract it has awarded.
The 20-year contract was assigned to SNC-Lavalin on 31st January, despite the fact that in the past the company has recognized financing political parties illegally, and one of the conditions of the company taking on the role was that a bank guarantee of 1.25 million euros had to be presented by 14th February. After a nervous wait, and some tricky manoeuvring in order to extend the deadline, the regional government of the Comunitat Valenciana finally received this document last Friday.
On receiving it, the government, keen to open the facility as soon as possible, immediately called a meeting of Aerocas for Monday to discuss the wording of the document by which responsibility will be transferred to SNC-Lavalin, and announced on Monday afternoon that the agreement had finally been signed.
The regional authorities deny that the delay in SNC’s bank guarantee was anything other than a product of the complex internal procedures within the company which were required in order for the document to be produced. Apparently the request had to be processed first in Spain, then in Paris and then in London before reaching the company HQ in Montreal, and then had to return by the same route.
What is beyond doubt, though, is that the regional government will be breathing a huge sigh of relief if the airport does eventually open, since the project has been beset by difficulties and controversy since it was first mooted in the 1990s. The official opening ceremony in 2011 came and went without any actual planes landing or taking off there, and finally the government decided to try and sell the facility, hopes rising due to the reported interest of a Libyan group in purchasing the facility.
However, when it turned out that the Libyans had no funds to back up their offer of 200 million euros the Generalitat chose to rent it out to the highest bidder for the management contract, and SNC-Lavalin was the only large corporation to express any interest: hence the government’s keenness to keep them on board.
The intention now is for SNC-Lavalin to open the airport within five and a half months, achieving all the necessary permits and certificates as well as completing various simulation exercises before mid-August. Some of these procedures have already been begun by Aerocas, the previous government-owned management company, but meeting this deadline is a tall order given the various tasks still outstanding.
So those intending to fly to and from Castellón-Costa Azahar will still have to wait a while yet. The SNC-Lavalin bid confidently predicted that within five years the annual volume of passengers would be 1,000 per day, but at the moment no agreement has been reached with any airline to operate flights there.
Nervousness on the part of the government could be forgiven in the light of the previous record of SNC-Lavalin. Spanish paper El Confidencial reported last week that as well as the political party finance scandal in Canada, the company has also admitted paying similar bribes to win public works contracts in Nigeria, Zambia, Uganda, Ghana, India, Algeria, Bangladesh and Kazakhstan, and features on the World Bank’s blacklist.
In addition, another investigation has revealed payments of 104 million euros to the family of Colonel Gaddafi in exchange for the concession of important contracts in Libya, and in the Comunitat Valenciana, a region where allegations of political corruption are far from unknown, the appointment of the company has raised more than one eyebrow.
On top of all this, it is being reported that there are indications that all is not well within the company: again El Confidential reports that a 240-million euro profit in 2012 is believed to have shrunk to just 23 million last year, and while on the one hand there is at last some progress to speak of at Castellón airport, nobody will be taking it for granted that a prompt opening is now guaranteed.
Image: Interior of Castellón airport. Aerocas
All Text and Images are Subject to Copyright