The European economy was booming, fuelled by debt in the early 2000s. Southern Europe was on a resurgent growth path which meant construction projects were easily funded to cater to this expansion. Then, the financial crisis hit. Demand waned, for both travel and infrastructure investment, leaving some grandiose construction projects abandoned.
This was the case for Ciudad Real airport in Spain. Originally designed to take excess traffic away from Madrid Barajas airport, the airfield was located a staggering 150 miles North of the city. At a time when low-cost airlines were keeping costs down by serving secondary airports, the remote location of Ciudad Real seemed a little too much for passengers and airlines alike to absorb.
The international airport was open for just three years and saw flights from only two airlines—Ryanair and Vueling, with the latter having its flights subsidised by the government.
With the abandoned airport still racking up costs as it fell into disrepair—including having to paint large yellow crosses over the crumbling runway so pilots knew the airfield was abandoned, the airport was finally put up for sale.
With an initial price tag of €80 million being shunned, that airport was eventually picked up in July 2015 by Tzaneen International, a group of British and Asian investors, for just €10,000. The firm said in a statement that it planned to invest between €60 to €100 million into regenerating the airfield on the basis that “several Chinese companies are interested in making it into their main point of entry into Europe.” However, Spain’s commercial court rejected the bid saying that it was too low and that the airport terminal and car parks wouldn’t have been included.
Later that year, an unidentified investor proposed a €28 million bid for the airfield to the courts, however, that potential transaction also fell through.
Three years later the airport was eventually sold for €56.2 million to Ciudad Real International Airport SL in September 2018, and the previously abandoned airport received its first flight last month—ironically with no passengers on. A 747 landed at the airstrip. The last few years have yet again seen the ghost airport change ownership, with an attempt to rebrand the airfield as Madrid Airport South being halted, likely since Madrid is 150 miles away. With owners now looking to rebrand the space into offering tech support, maintenance and flight training, it seems as though it may still be quite some time before we see passenger arrivals at Ciudad Real airport.
With several firms looking to invest in the airfield, there is still a lifeline for this once abandoned facility, who have left their doors open for commercial traffic along with the alternative aviation activities they have proposed, which includes aircraft storage in the dry desert-like environment. However, the question remains whether passengers will be willing to transit such a large distance from Madrid, particularly when flying short-haul European flights. With the growth of long-haul low-cost travel in recent years, there could be a possibility to facilitate operations in this market segment.
Unfortunately, though, there is the increasing prospect of Madrid getting a brand new second airport, just over 20 miles from the city in Casarrubios del Monte. This facility could even see construction begin in 2020 if it gets approval and largely caters to the low-cost market for Madrid. Would Madrid really need two alternative airports in that situation? Time will tell.