New airport opens next to Andorran and Catalan ski resorts
The Andorra-la Seu d’Urgell Airport kicked off its public and commercial activities on Thursday, and is able to host aircraft of up to 40 seats. The old La Seu d’Urgell’s airfield, in the middle of a Pyrenean valley and only 15km away from Andorra, has been updated to go beyond being a facility merely used by recreational light aircraft. From now on, small commercial airliners, charter flights and air taxis will be able to operate from this mountain airport very close to Catalonia’s and Andorra’s main ski resorts. The new facilities will be managed by the Catalan Government and Andorra, which will meet half of its operational costs. The Catalan Executive is currently negotiating with 8 companies that may be interested in flying from the airport. Furthermore, the permits needed to host flights from outside the Schengen Area are expected to be granted by the Spanish authorities during 2015.
Barcelona (ACN).- The Andorra-la Seu d’Urgell Airport kicked off its public and commercial activities on Thursday, and is able to host aircraft of up to 40 seats. The old La Seu d’Urgell’s airfield, in the middle of a Catalan Pyrenean valley and only 15km away from Andorra, has been updated and upgraded to go beyond being a facility merely used by recreational light aircraft. From now on, small commercial airliners, charter flights and air taxis will be able to operate from this mountain airport, which is very close to Catalonia’s main ski resorts as well as those located in Andorra. The new facilities will be jointly managed by the Catalan Government and the Andorran authorities, which will pay half of its operational costs. The Catalan Executive is currently negotiating with 8 companies that may be interested in operating flights from the new airport. Furthermore, the Catalan Minister for Territory and Sustainability (in charge of Transport), Santi Vila, is hopeful that the Spanish Government will grant the new airport the permits to operate flights from outside the Schengen Area. Santi Vila unveiled the new infrastructure on Thursday and signed the agreement with the Andorran Government the same day.
After a €1 million investment to upgrade the weather monitoring systems and the airfield’s main facilities, the Andorra-la Seu d’Urgell airport is ready to host larger planes than just recreational light aircrafts. Since it is located in the middle of a narrow mountain valley, the airport’s runway cannot be very long (it is 1.5 kilometres long) and it can only host aircraft that have a 40-seat maximum capacity. However, these small charter flights and airliners can cover both short and medium distances and therefore could link this area of the Catalan Pyrenees and Andorra with the entire European territory and North Africa. This new transport infrastructure is to be in addition to the Lleida-Alguaire Aiport, which can host larger flights and is located at the foot of the Pyrenees and pre-Pyrenees areas.
Ski fans and lovers of trekking, rafting or BTT, who want to enjoy the numerous ski resorts in the area during the winter months and the wide variety of mountain sports throughout the entire year, will now be able to come directly from Germany, Italy, Portugal, the Benelux area or northern France without having to land at Barcelona El Prat Airport, which is some 2 hours away. Tourists from Russia and North Africa, but also from the UK, will also be able to fly directly to the area if the Spanish Government grants the Andorra-la Seu d’Urgell airport the authorisation to operate non-Schengen flights.
Catalan Minister Santi Vila emphasised the importance of the new infrastructure in strengthening the economic activities of this large mountainous area. He added that the most immediate challenge is “to surpass the obstacle” to get the Spanish Government’s authorisation to operate flights from outside the European area of free movement of people and goods, known as the Schengen Area. Vila stated they will be “vigilant” to make sure this authorisation arrives during 2015.
La Seu d’Urgell’s Mayor, Albert Batalla, highlighted the “importance” that the airfield has gotten so far, hosting private and recreational small aircrafts. Batalla welcomed the infrastructure’s upgrade since it represents “a step forward” for the area. However, he did not make any forecasts regarding the expected number of passengers. The Mayor of La Seu d’Urgell highlighted that the airport will be hosting commercial flights once again and that “it is probably the cheapest airport in the whole of Spain in terms of management costs”. He stated that now the first priority is to attract air taxis and follow on immediately after with charter flights, whilst waiting for the commercial flights which should be the last ones to make an appearance.
Andorra’s Government is paying half of the running costs
The tourist industry of this area of the Catalan Pyrenees and Andorra is backing the new infrastructure and will sign an agreement next week to launch initiatives aiming to foster the airport’s use. Furthermore, the Government of Andorra will pay for 50% of the running costs and will also participate in the airport’s promotion and management. The agreement with Andorran authorities is for the next 5 years, although it could be extended. In addition, Andorra will only pay a maximum of €300,000 of any operationing deficit per year.
La Seu d’Urgell airfield reopened its facilities in June 2010, after the Catalan Government’s investment to renovate the runway and its buildings in order to host recreational light aircraft. The facility first opened as a commercial airport in 1980, but stopped this type of activity in 1984, remaining an airfield for small aircraft only. It had been closed since 2007. In 2013, the Catalan Government decided to invest an additional million to be able to host commercial aircrafts of up to 40 seats. The airport has 5 hangars to store aircraft, another one to store fuel, a small passenger terminal and a restaurant, as well as an open-air parking space for aircraft.