Blogging from the Murcia region of Spain until early June, when I return to
the Highlands of Scotland for a few months

'Fair and softly goes far' - Miguel de Cervantes

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Corvera airport vs. Murcia-San Javier: the end-game may be close

(Please see UPDATES at end)

It appears, perhaps, that the end-game may be approaching in how to reconcile the projected imminent opening of the new Corvera International Airport as the regional airport of Murcia Region, with the future of Murcia-San Javier airport (MJV).

It seems the operators of the civilian part of Murcia-San Javier airport (MJV), AENA (a public company) are in talks with both the central and regional governments about the future commercial operations which may be viable at MJV, if any, once Corvera becomes operational, now projected for summer 2012. There seem to be several strands to this:
- the compensation which may need to be paid to AENA for it to cease commercial operations at MJV, which is being estimated to exceed €70 million;
- the viability of military operations at the General Air Academy (Academia General del Aire) being carried on largely from the [new] second runway, because both officers and cadets consider that they should continue to use the main runway as they believe it safer for the training of future Army pilots;
- traffic through MJV has dropped by more than half a million in the past three years, falling below 2 million to 1,876,255 in 2008 and falling again to 1,630,664 in 2009, with a still greater drop of 17.2% in 2010 with traffic for the year amounting to [only] 1,349,000 passengers, according to AENA figures, suggesting a problem in regional tourism, not the airport's capacity, as nearby Alicante (along with many other major Spanish airports) have continued to see healthy growth in traffic.

Although none of this is very clear, my impression is that the closure of MJV to most, if not all, non-military traffic is now under active consideration. One suggestion is that some limited charter and private flight traffic could contiue to use MJV, where the limited hours allocated to civilian traffic would not prove detrimental to their viability. AENA employs [only] 85 staff at MJV and is committed to offering them alternative employment opportunities, because many of the services (and costs) are shared with the military, such as maintenance and safety and who in particular provide air traffic control services. One imagines that if the vast bulk of the civilian traffic is moved to Corvera it will be easier to expand flight schedules there, because there will be much fewer restrictions on the hours of flying (presumably there will be some restriction on night-time flights as there is at most airports).

From what I can see all this is very tentative, but the fact that these discussions are taking place seems a good indication of the the way people's thoughts are trending on this vexed issue - perhaps in the next few weeks and months, after the reported talks between the Murcia Regional authorities and various airlines which might use (transfer to) the new Corvera facility, which have been reported recently, have taken place, it will become clearer. What seems certain to me is that if Corvera is to be operational with flights actually arriving and leaving by next summer, then the airlines concerned will have to be in a position to publish their flight schedules for the new airport sooner rather than later, so they can start to sell those flights and plan for the local infrastructure that will be required. Watch this space ...

UPDATE (Wednesday 14SEP11 08.23 BST, 09.33 CET) Yesterday afternoon, in the wake of the announcement published yesterday that negotiations were taking place for the closure of MJV to civilian traffic with a compensation package for AENA, the Ministry of Development (Ministerio de Fomento), speaking through the Government Delegation in Murcia (Delegación del Gobierno en Murcia) has flatly denied that such negoitiations are taking place at all:
"Fomento niega que haya acuerdo o negociaciones para cerrar el aeropuerto de San Javier a cambio de 70 millones de euros", señaló esa fuente, que insistió en que "resulta disparatado que se filtren esas informaciones cuando no responden a la realidad." ([The Ministry of] Development denies agreement or negotiations to close the airport of San Javier in exchange for 70 million euros," said the source, who insisted that "it is absurd to leak this information when they do not correspond with reality.")
Two things to say here:
- that denial does not, strictly speaking, deny that any negotiations are taking place, simply that the figure of €70 million for compensation is wrong and it does not correspond with reality, on the other hand it might have been intended as a complete denial of any negotiations at all;
- meanwhile local sources insist that negotiations are taking place.
(Important - see further UPDATE further down this page)

Whom to believe? I am tempted to conclude this is just another strand of the political battle being fought by the Murcia Regional Government for its 'pet project' to open the putative Corvera International Airport at the expense of AENA-cotrolled Murcia-San Javier airport, as I mentioned about three months ago here.

2nd UPDATE (Tuesday 20SEP11 09.10 BST, 10.10 CET) A provisional agreement has now been reached by the government in Madrid and the Murcia Regional government for AENA to take over the operational management of the new Corvera International Airport when it opens and to transfer all its activities there from the existing Murcia-San Javier airport (MJV), which will then cease all its civilian flight activities - read more here.

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