Is the ‘ghost airport’ in Spain’s Murcia region finally set for take-off?
Regional authorities putting management of Corvera hub out to tender despite ongoing legal dispute
The government of Murcia has made definitive steps toward reviving the region’s international airport in Corvera and is once again putting the management contract for this ‘ghost’ travel hub out to tender, despite the failure of other similar ventures in Spain to pay off and in spite of the fact it is still embroiled in a long-running legal battle with the first company to win the concession back in 2007.
The new phase of this cripplingly expensive aviation saga began on March 25 with the bidders’ conditions released in the Official Journal of the European Union. Interested companies have until May 2 to register. After that date, those who can provide proof of financial buoyancy and experience will have two months to provide detailed technical and economic plans.
Corvera airport received an initial investment of €270 million and building work on it is all but finished. But the facility was never opened to the public and, in December 2015, the regional government was forced to cancel the contract with Madrid-based Sacyr on the grounds that the company granted the concession had exceeded its allotted time period.
Regional authorities believe Corvera will be able to welcome 800,000 foreign tourists in the first four years
The subsequent legal battle between Sacyr and Murcia’s authorities has become increasingly complex and is now headed for the High Court.
Corvera is the first regional airport to be put out to tender since the frenzy to open small airports across Spain began sapping resources and leading – in the case of Castellón and Ciudad Real, to years of disuse – or, in the case in Huesca, Lérida, Salamanca, León, La Rioja, Burgos and Albacete, to crippling losses absorbed by the airport networks. When it opens, it will replace the region’s San Javier airport.
According to estimates from Murcia’s Department of Development and Infrastructure, Corvera will be able to welcome 800,000 foreign tourists in the first four years, pushing total passenger traffic up to 3.5 million a year, a figure which could, in time, rise to 5 million. It will also create 20,000 jobs and raise regional GDP by 3.5 percentage points.
These passenger figures would mean revenue of €495.8 million (€600 million including sales tax) in the first 25 years. A complementary activities zone totaling 600,000 square meters is also on the cards, with profits from it remaining in private hands.
The successful bidder will be able to establish fees and negotiate with airline operators – a freedom which should improve competitiveness in the Alicante, Murcia and Almería regions and allow for more efficient management, according to the authorities.
Meanwhile, the regional government has introduced two conditions to recoup some of the taxpayer money that has been sunk into the project: the successful bidder will pump €0.73 per passenger into state coffers for the first 10 years, €2.09 per passenger in the five years following that, €2.27 in the subsequent five years and €2.56 for the last five years. A total of 10% of income earned by cargo airline companies on cargo weighing more than 50,000 tons will also be paid to the region.
There will also be incentives to increase passenger traffic; if there are more than 2.5 million passengers a year, the successful bidder will get a discount of 5%; another 5% discount will be applied if numbers exceed 400,000 in the winter months, or from November to February.
English version by Heather Galloway.