• Pierre

OPINION: Cancelation of Barcelona’s airport expansion plans is a good thing.

(Photo: La Vanguardia)


A nonsense business case and a very clear environmental menace make this now shelved project a narrowly-avoided fiasco.

Plans to expand Barcelona’s international airport were shelved this week, putting an end to a protracted fight which pitted environmentalists, activists and the local government on the on hand, against AENA (the Spanish airport authority) and several other layers of government on the other. This is a very good thing in my humble opinion (LEAVE YOUR OPINION DOWN BELOW!)

The expansion plans were grandiose. A giant new satellite terminal to be linked by train to Terminal 1, flanked by another extra-long runway parallel to a beach, were in the works, all envisioned to turn the airport into a “global transcontinental hub”, rivalling Madrid, Amsterdam, or London Heathrow.

The main reason for the cancellation is ostensibly the expansion’s incursion into the “Delta del Llobregat” reserve, an ecosystem home to a multitude of animal and bird life and protected by the EU. The EU opposed the plans based on the threat to the delta’s environment, and promised to block the project, while Barcelona city council, forever opposed, claimed the plans were “stuck in the past”. The Catalan government, under local pressure, finally withdrew its support as well.

(Photo: El Pais)

In defence of a bigger airport, Barcelona’s metropolitan population is, according to Eurostat, set to grow to 7 million by 2050, making it one of Europe’s most populated cities. I’m not sure how well that bodes for the quality of life in the city, nor if those statisticians at Eurostat took into account the impact of climate change. But, as the expansion would only have been completed in 2030, the city’s airport would be well prepared for any growth in future demand from the city.

That’s where my defence ends. A bigger airport will be desperate to attract flights, meaning more tourists which is precisely not what most of the city’s residents want, with the number of tourists to Barcelona having already reached 30 million annually pre-pandemic. It’s also possible that demand for flights to the city will never reach pre-pandemic levels again, with business traffic (already low and falling due to Covid-19) falling further as well. The growth envisioned by AENA might not have ever materialized.

(Photo: Worldakkam.com)

Putting aside for a moment the environmental costs of the project for a moment, AENA’s business case of building a “global hub” is also illogical as it defies how hub airports work. Major hub cities start with a single airline that connect to a vast number of cities around the world, allowing for connections within their network. London, Amsterdam, Paris, and Istanbul, to name just a few examples, are global hubs not only because of their airport infrastructure, but because British Airways, KLM, Air France and Turkish Airlines are high-quality carriers with well-established, global route networks. Barcelona? Well, it can claim only Vueling, a low-cost airline with a network that barely spans beyond Europe. Building a giant airport thinking it will create global connections ignores how hubs are built and grow in the first place. Failure was almost certain.

With most of Europe investing in train-infrastructure, if “successful” the airport would also have vastly increased the amount of air pollution in the surrounding area, make the city unable to meet its climate-change commitments to reduce CO² emissions, as well reduce and possibly destroy a sensitive ecosystem (el Delta del Llobregat) that has already seen its size fallen with the previous expansion.

Notably, Barcelona is one of the cities in Europe (if not the world) with the highest population density and exacerbating the problem is the very small number of green spaces. I was reminded of this very strikingly on a recent visit to Belgrade, Serbia, where large city parks, protected areas, and green spaces seem to challenge built-up areas in terms of space devoted to them. Reducing the size of yet another green space in Barcelona adds insult to injury.

Cities must look to the future, not the past, to reinvent themselves. This cancellation is welcome as it assures Barcelona will work to build a liveable, sustainable city that moves away from tourism and other environmentally and socially-destructive industries towards an economy that creates value for residents and the planet.

DO YOU AGREE WITH ME? DISAGREE? Leave me a comment below!


to expand - to make bigger (ampliar)

to shelve - abandon (cajonear/posponer)

grandiose (adj.) - grand/extravagant

ostensibly (adv.) - apparently (ostensiblemente)

to withdraw support - to take away (retirar apoyo)

to be set to - to be expected to (Estar previsto que)

to bode (well) for - to be a sign of (augurar/presagiar)

to envision - imagine (imaginar/visualizar)

to materialize - become real/appear (materializar)

a hub - a place where connections happen (centro de conexiones)

a network - a system of linkages (una red)

to meet commitments (cumplir compromisos/obligaciones)

to add insult to injury - to make something worse (poner sal en la herida)

liveable (adj.) - tolerable or pleaseant/enjoyable to live in (soportable/habitable)

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