Teruel Airport  – a ‘magnificent reality’ rather than a moribund ‘aeromuerto’

Spain’s Teruel Airport will become “a source of wealth creation” in the next few years, according to Aragon region President Javier Lamban. He said that other sectors regarded the creation of the airport with “scepticism” but following the solving  of “initial difficulties,” the airport is a “magnificent reality”.


Summary:

  • One of Spain’s more successful airports does not actually handle any passenger flights;
  • Teruel Airport, located between Valencia and Zaragoza, benefits from dry weather conditions and proximity to big cities for its storage and MRO activities;
  • There are not many other such facilities and other Spanish cities now look belatedly to do the same thing.

The project for the airport required over EUR40 million in investment, and it was conceived as an industrial airport, not planned to handle passengers or cargo, but to focus on MRO operations. The airport could handle 5500 operations in 2018, a 40% year-on-year increase.

Teruel is situated on the A23 road between Valencia and Zaragoza, Spain’s third and fifth largest cities. It is also centrally located to Madrid and Barcelona, and to the industrial city of Bilbao in the north, which means that half of the top 10 Spanish cities are within its orbit and of the other five two of them are on distant islands.

Nevertheless, it is so sparsely populated that locals launched a public investment campaign using the slogan “Teruel existe!” Fortunately, these activities are not labour-intensive.

MAP: Teruel Airport is located centrally between some of Spain’s largest citiesSource: Google Maps

It is only around 75km from Castellón, the site of one of Spain’s private sector airports, one that has so far – just – avoided becoming an “aeromuerto”, a phrase coined a decade ago to identify those Spanish airports that were built as vanity projects, often by a public-private consortium, but failed to attract sufficient traffic to be viable.

Indeed one might argue that having a central airport between these two large cities and their conurbations might make more sense than having one at Castellón, but neither passenger nor cargo traffic was ever the objective at Teruel.

Teruel Airport opened in 2013 as an industrial-aerospace hub, with storage capacity for at least 250 aircraft, the largest in Europe. The airport offers long-term aircraft parking, aircraft recycling and MRO services, aircraft painting, aircraft assembly and fitting-out services. The airport also offers pilot and fire-fighter training, as well as house aeronautical research facilities and has attracted enquiries for rocket-engine testing.

Both the airport, and the adjacent 81-acre industrial zone (PLATA), are owned by a consortium formed by the Government of Aragon and Teruel City Council. It has no connection to AENA, which owns most of the airports in Spain, or to any private sector enterprise.

Located 1000 m above sea level on a plain it might not be an ideal location for passenger services anyway but its modus operandi is to cater for aircraft which are, in the main, temporarily out of service and awaiting the opportunity to become active again. This might include some of the so-called ‘white tails’; new aircraft that are awaiting delivery to a carrier or lessor. That means maintaining them, not just storing them.  The management does not view it as a scrap yard but just as some animals cannot successfully be re-homed it is the case that some obsolete aircraft may have to be decommissioned.

The reasons for their presence are many and include the need to iron out legal and financial details but the most significant reason is the need that most airlines have at one time or another to adjust their capacity. Then there are global economic-political drivers such as the financial crisis in Russia brought on by sanctions there, and the possibility of the same thing happening with Iran.

Even without these individual drivers the growth in the world’s aircraft fleet as a consequence of liberalisation would have demanded the introduction of these facilities because the non-passenger work undertaken at them is consistently being shifted away from mainstream airports as it is relatively unprofitable.

There are not many aircraft storage/maintenance facilities of this size and scope anywhere in the world. The better known ones are in the United States of America (USA), especially Arizona, where it is also very dry. One in southern France has run out of space, with Teruel immediately falling into the frame to offer assistance.

So in a way it is a little surprising that there are not more of them. It is understood that another – and recent – proposal to take over Ciudad Real airport in the equally bone dry and thinly populated Castille La Mancha region has aircraft storage and maintenance at the heart of its pitch. It might have been better perhaps if the original consortium there had selected that option in the first place rather than an ambitious scheme to attract budget passengers from Madrid, 180 km away.