Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Crash Landing For Don Quijote

There is no shortage of monuments to the bursting of the construction bubble in Spain, but amongst the most prominent should surely be the airport occasionally known as Don Quijote, located near to Ciudad Real. This airport was opened just before the crisis really started to bite as the first privately run commercial airport in the country, and has ended up going into liquidation with enormous debts.

Things never went very well for the project. Back in 2007 I wrote about the opportunist attempt by the airport's owners to mislead passengers into thinking that they might be landing somewhere near Madrid. The "Madrid Sur" plan had to be dropped following the protests against the idea, and eventually the airport opened as Don Quijote, but seems to have ended up as just being plain old Ciudad Real; which it is at least near to.

The first commercial passenger flights into the airport seemed to consist mainly of hunting parties from Germany but then Air Berlin threw in the towel earlier this year. Funnily enough Ryanair started flying into the airport just a few weeks ago, but following the announcement of the suspensión de pagos they announced their intention to stop flights. All of which would have left the airport as perhaps a good place to install a few more windmills. But then Ryanair have subsequently backtracked and announced that they will continue flights to Ciudad Real. It's a curious situation, given their liking for generous public subsidies for flying unsuspecting passengers into the middle of nowhere.

The airport has achieved the distinction of being a major contributor to the downfall of both of the Spanish savings banks that have so far had to be rescued by the government; the Caja Castilla - La Mancha and CajaSur. Total debts are estimated at being around €300 million. Sadly, it seems that the airport didn't quite get its own high speed AVE train station; although this formed part of the original plan. It would have been a station to rival that constructed near the unfinished desert-like urbanisations outside of Guadalajara, which on a good day is said to have as many as 20 users! Because Ciudad Real city already has an AVE station.

The 'pelotazo' associated with this disaster was not intended to be based around housing, there was instead a plan for a huge tourism and casino complex to be called El Reino de Don Quijote. Some of those behind this now phantom project were also part of the group behind the airport. It seems that all of these grandiose plans were hatched with the active support of the region's politicians, but Ciudad Real will have to wait a few years now for the Quijote miracle.


Lee said...

I had also heard several years ago that there were plans to make Ciudad Real the Spanish Silicon Valley. They wanted to bring in tech companies, there were plans to build a big new National Theater (hooking up with the Almagro festival, which does need more space)and there was going to be a huge new regional hospital too. Goodbye to all that.

santcugat said...

Check out their website under "estadísticas de trafico".

Graeme said...

Yes, I saw it when I was preparing the post. The bus service that runs three times a week to Ciudad Real tells its own story too.

Troy said...

The funny thing is that this airport is STILL touted as a fine example out here in Extremadura by those who for some insane reason think that a city of under 100,000 people (Caceres) desperately needs an airport.

An airport I might add that would be conveniently located in a protected bird area.

Ahh the genius of it all.

ejh said...

If Huesca needs an airport then who does not?

Graeme said...


If they fly the German hunters that can't go to Don Quijote any more into Caceres instead, then they take care of the bird problem?


Surely Los Monegros, which was going to have its own casino/hotel project, deserves an international airport too?

John (no name) said...

Well-spotted santcugat.

14000 passengers in the first 5 months of the year is astonishing. I found myself instinctively looking for the units, as in, is that hundreds or thousands? But no, it is 14000.

It would have been cheaper not to build the airport and instead to provide helicopters and private jets to those 14000 people.

Graeme said...

Why that's as many as 100 people a day pouring into Castilla - La Mancha! I wonder how many people a single AVE train carries between Madrid and Sevilla? The funny thing is, with the only flights coming from Britain, is that they'll have to have border and customs controls set up.

ejh said...

Surely Los Monegros, which was going to have its own casino/hotel project, deserves an international airport too?

Yes, Ontiñena International Airport, I can see it now.

As Gran Scala is apparently going to be a second Las Vegas, I suppose they might be planning to offer casino-goers free transport from the airport, as I'm told they do in Nevada. Lleida airport might turn out to have some point to it.