Barajas sees dramatic loss of passengers

Madrid's main airport served 11.7 percent fewer travelers in August, the biggest fall in Europe

Iberia planes at Terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas.
Iberia planes at Terminal 4 of Madrid-Barajas.SUSANA VERA / REUTERS

Madrid-Barajas in August suffered the biggest fall in the number of passengers it handled among airports of a comparable size (over 25 million visits a year), with a drop of 11.7 percent, compared with the same month a year earlier, according to a report released Monday by the European delegation of Airports International Council.

Barajas has accumulated a fall in the number of passengers it receives of 20.4 percent over the past two years and has now fallen to ninth place in the rankings of European airports on the basis of traffic. Barcelona-El Prat displaced Madrid as Spain’s busiest airport in August after increasing its passenger numbers by 7.8 percent over the past 24 months.

According to figures from Spain’s Industry, Energy and Tourism Ministry, the number of overseas visitors to Madrid fell 22.2 percent in August compared to the same month last year, and was down 7.7 percent in the first eight months of the year at 2.7 million. The main reason for this was a drop in the number of visitors from Italy and Latin America.

The state airport operator AENA is trying to develop transit operations at Barajas as part of efforts to turn the situation around. Madrid received 3.801 million transit passengers in August, compared with 3.905 million at Barcelona.

Industry sources attributed Madrid’s problems to the downturn in business at Iberia, the country’s leading airline. Iberia and its partners exclusively operate Barajas’ Terminal 4, in which the government invested six billion euros, connecting it to the suburban rail network and the subway system. Work on the new installations was finished before Iberia merged with British Airways in 2011. The Spanish carrier’s problems have increased since the tie-up.

However, low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet have complained about the increase in charges they pay to AENA for using Barajas.

Spain’s airports as a whole in August suffered a 2.1-percent fall in traffic volumes in August, the fifth-biggest in the European Union after Estonia, Cyprus, Slovakia and Hungary. Passenger numbers at Seville airport fell 16.7 percent, Bilbao 10.5 percent and Valencia 16.7 percent. Málaga and Palma de Mallorca increased their numbers by 2.8 and 1.5 percent respectively.

EU airports as a whole saw traffic volumes rise 2.4 percent, with the biggest increases in Poland, Britain, Ireland, the Nordic countries, Portugal, Slovenia, Lithuania, Croatia and Malta. London Heathrow saw its volumes rise 7.7 percent and Paris-Orly 6.0 percent.

Airports International Council said the improvement in EU volumes could reflect improved economic sentiment in Europe.