Spain’s Murcia Corvera Airport to be inaugurated at last. Competition with Alicante? But AENA manages both of them

Murcia Corvera International Airport is scheduled to be inaugurated on 15-Jan-2019 and is projected to handle six million passengers in 2019. The LCC Norwegian just announced it will operate four routes from Norwegian cities in summer 2019.


Summary:

  • The new Murcia Corvera Airport will open in Jan-2019 under the management of AENA – its construction and eventual operation have had a turbulent history;
  • Norwegian will be the first to operate flights from the new airport with links to Bergen, Oslo, Stavanger and Trondheim starting from Apr-2019;
  • But, a big question remains unanswered… Will AENA’s involvement with both it and Alicante-Elche Airport mean that competition will be stifled?

The region of Murcia is an autonomous community of Spain, the tenth largest in the country, with a population of 1.5 million. The city of Murcia has a metropolitan population of around 700,000.

It is located in the southeast of the country on the Mediterranean coast, sandwiched between the thinly populated Castille-La-Mancha and Andalusia, and the Valencian community, the latter two of which have highly developed tourist offers, in cities and resorts such as Málaga, Marbella, Alicante and Benidorm.

Murcia region’s Costa Cálida is not so well developed but it has some of the leading golf resorts in Spain.

MAP – Spain’s autonomous regionsSource: Geocurrent

The airport’s operator (somewhat controversially) AENA, has been working during the last six months to prepare it for opening, awarding contracts such as infrastructure enhancement, parking lot management, meteorological services, passenger area maintenance, and commercial operations.

The bidding procedure for the ‘management, maintenance, operation and conservation’ contract was an open affair, managed by the Autonomous Region via TED Europa, the European public procurement journal. It was awarded to AENA in Mar-2018 for 25 years and includes a 600,000 sq m area neighbouring the airport for commercial development and to attract logistics companies and hotels.

But that does not tell the whole story by any means. The concession, which is to replace the existing Murcia San Javier Airport, which is shared with the military and which will close when the new airport is fully operational, was originally handed to Spanish construction company Sacyr Vallehermoso as long ago as 2007 via the Aeromur consortium of seven companies of which Sacyr held 60%.

The tender was to finance, build, manage, and maintain the new regional international airport. It was worth EUR555 million, with EUR180 million construction costs. Then in Sep-2013 the concession was revoked as the “the most appropriate measure to ensure the opening of the airport in the shortest possible time”, according to the Regional Minister of Public Works and Planning as the concessionaire had been “unable to perform the opening of the airport” despite it being physically complete.

While the precise reason for the decision is not known (Sacyr argued it was working towards an opening date and had hired staff), the debacle which was the public-private sector Ciudad Real airport in neighbouring Castille La Mancha in the previous decade must have weighed in the government’s thinking.

This time, AENA, the partly-privatised state operator which has 46 airports in its stable, decided to participate in the new Murcia tender, along with France’s Grupo Edeis and Argentina-based Corporación America, and was ultimately successful.

Almost every attempt to open and operate successfully a private airport in Spain has foundered and AENA is all but a monopoly, still, apart from the public body Aeroports de Catalunya. Only the Castellón Airport in Valencia province (see story above) has survived and the concession there changed several times, latterly from SNC Lavalin to Edeis and then, last year, back to the original owner, the regional government owned Aerocas, with effect from 2019.

Locally, the ‘monopoly’ conundrum continues. As Spain’s rail and highway systems continue to improve the new airport will be pitched into direct competition with Alicante-Elche Airport, about 75km away (though rather further by road), for much the same tourist business (allowing for the generation of originating traffic but most services will not be geared to local needs).

CHART – While Alicante Elche (top) is a considerably busier airport, Murcia’s San Javier (bottom) growth rate just now has outstripped it Source: CAPA – Centre for Aviation and OAG

While Alicante is a considerably busier airport, Murcia’s growth rate just now has outstripped it.  With new services offering reduced fares and the potential for a road/rail connection via Murcia city to Alicante there is the prospect of Corvera becoming an alternative airport for the Costa Blanca, too.

But again would ‘manager’ AENA at Corvera want that when ‘owner’ AENA at Alicante spent EUR500 million on a new terminal only eight years ago? Would it not have been better if Edeis or Corporación America had won, so it could be seen if a serious foreign airport operator could make a real go of a Spanish airport?