June 13, 2013 Ciudad Real International Airport: a one billion euro flop.
Here’s the pitch.
A new airport, built from the ground up. An airport built to handle the A380. An airport with lower landing fees than the main international airport and linked to the city center though a high-speed rail line with a travel time of less than an hour. That pitch was the motivation for Ciudad Real International Airport. 150 miles south of Madrid’s city center the airport was designed from the start to be a relief airport for Madrid Barajas Airport. This airport was built was because the high speed rail line meant that the travel time from the city center would be about equal to the time it takes to get from the city center to Madrid Barajas Airport.
On paper this was a good idea. However, much like New Coke, what looked good on paper did not translate well to reality.
Here is the airport now.
You can see the terminal building. The connecting arm to the now demolished Renfe platform stands out from the upper of the terminal like a rude hand gesture to the country that rejected it. The ground level pictures are even more stark.
The airport currently sits abandoned to all. The runway is marked with X’s telling pilots to land there and the entire airport has been removed from the countries air navigation materials. Even when the airport opened there were no more than a couple of flights per-day on at most two carriers. The fact is that an airport 150 miles away will just not be that popular compared to one 20 miles away, high speed line or not. Some people have theorized that this project was just one big scam from the beginning. People have accused the developer of fraud. The developer had a relationship with the contractors used to the build the airport. Thus, the developer got paid as a contractor while being able to default on the debt he held as the developer.
Whether it was fraud or hubris that built this airport the lesson is clear, no matter how good a project looks on paper a single disadvantage can cripple an otherwise decent idea.