Madrid has not exactly suffered from having only one airport, but plans for a second now faces airspace complications

3 March, 2020

The Spanish capital, Madrid, is one of the world’s most popular destinations for business and leisure tourism alike, with an eclectic mix of culture, history and entertainment. Its appeal transcends generations making it as on trend millennials as it remains popular with baby boomers. This helps support strong flows of both types of tourists into the city and it has certainly been a location that has gained from the developing ‘bleisure’ experience, where business and leisure come together.

The strong position has been supported by its strong connectivity and being the main transfer point between Europe and Central and South America. This has all been achieved with Madrid being home to just a single airport, the biggest European capital to have just a single airport gateway.

Madrid has not exactly suffered from having only one airport though. The opening of a new terminal (four) in 2006 made separate space available for low-cost carriers, which had been one of the reasons the green field airport at Ciudad Real, over 100km to the south of Madrid but which was also supposed to be a secondary airport for the city, never got going. While several attempts have been made to reopen it, the most recent one as a drone manufacturing facility, it still lies dormant.

With air travel demand predicted to continue its rapid growth the introduction of additional capacity into the Madrid system is a logical one. But now, analysis by Spain's Ministry of Transportation, Mobility and Urban Development has suggested that the implementation of a proposed Air City Madrid Sur project would entail significant difficulties in reordering regional airspace around Madrid Barajas Airport and nearby military facilities.

MAP – The proposed Air City Madrid Sur new airport and Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport are around 40km apart, pretty much on opposite sides of Spain’s capital citySource: Google Maps

Just how the proposed new airport would impact the regional airspace around Barajas Airport is hard to understand without reference to the appropriate data. The two airports are around 40km apart, not dissimilar to, say, London Heathrow and Gatwick airports, or Rome Fiumicino and Ciampino airports, or Paris de Gaulle and Orly airports. This may infer that military issues are the more prominent factor.

The Air City Madrid Sur project, the future solution for Madrid is centred around the expansion of Casarrubios del Monte Airfield (El Alamo) into a LCC airport with construction of a 3,200m runway, an ATC tower, a 15,000square metre terminal, hangars and two access roads.

The potential for this airfield development, which would have annual capacity for seven million passengers and be operational by 2023, was reported in this previous The Blue Swan Daily article: There’s another proposal for a second Madrid airport, but what’s so different this time? Quite a lot, it appears!

CHART - Passenger traffic growth at Madrid Barajas since 2014 has averaged +7.5% per annum, culminating in an annual figure of 61.7 million in 2019, making it the fifth busiest airport in EuropeSource: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and AENA

It is now over ten years since there was a need for serious discussions over Madrid’s air capacity. But then Spain had fallen into a severe recession and air traffic at Madrid, as elsewhere in the country, fell dramatically to below 40 million annual passengers. It has only been since 2014 – and in line with AENA’s partial privatisation, which influenced airline charging levels – that it has gone back up.

It would seem that it is certainly the right time to be thinking in terms of that second airport although with another financial crash projected for the Eurozone, we could see history repeating itself, especially as the Mediterranean countries often seem to experience the worst of these crashes.