Business group proposes expanding Barcelona airport runway to Ricarda Natural Park

"It is now or never," Foment president says of suggestion to construct over lagoon area

A plane landing in Barcelona airport on March 24, 2021
A plane landing in Barcelona airport on March 24, 2021 / Lluís Sibils
Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | @gescaichfolch | Barcelona

October 23, 2023 01:11 PM

October 24, 2023 02:46 PM

Catalonia's largest business group, Foment del Treball, has proposed expanding one of Barcelona airport's runways 840 meters into the Ricarda Natural Park. This would result in a 3,500-meter runway, allowing larger aircrafts to land and take off from the Catalan capital. 

The runway in question is the 24L/06R, the closest one to the sea, and any renovation would affect the lagoon area. However, for the business group, it is one of the most viable solutions after analyzing 11 different proposals, including the expansion of the same runway by 500 meters, as proposed by Aena (Spain's public company in charge of managing airports) or by 350 meters, as proposed by Barcelona Global. Other options on the table included building a sea runway or using the existing airports in Reus and Girona instead of expanding the Barcelona one. 

"Today is a historic day for Catalonia," Josep Sánchez Llibre, President of Foment, said at the event on Monday morning. 

Josep Sánchez Llibre, Foment del Treball president

After analyzing several proposals, this opportunity allows the group "to say that the expansion of Barcelona's airport will be a reality," giving a "solution to passengers traveling to other airports to fly to other destinations," Sánchez Llibre added. 

It is now or never

Josep Sánchez Llibre

Foment business group president

The proposals analyzed come from existing ideas, some published in media outlets or shared by Foment's airport expansion committee members

One of the suggestions was creating a new airport in Igualada, central Catalonia. However, this would "have a cost of around €12 billion, something which the market will not be able to afford, as one of the ideas of the committee was for the cost to be paid in full by airport users and not all taxpayers," said Lluis Moreno, president of the committee, during the unveiling of the study.

Building a 3,500-meter sea runway is "a good proposal, but probably in 200 years, not now, as it will be more expensive than what first expected," he said. 

The last proposal was to expand the runway by 840 meters to reach 3,500-meters over the Ricarda Lagoon Natural Park, while maintaining the subaquatic biodiversity, "which currently does not exist, as the lagoon does not have any oxygen or water circulation," Moreno explained.

Expanding Barcelona airport runway into Ricarda lagoon

The solution would be to build columns and elevate the runway between two to five meters over the lagoon, using materials that can filter oxygen and water.

Proposal by Foment business group of expanding Barcelona airport runway 840 meters into the Ricarda lagoon area, with a floating runway
Proposal by Foment business group to expand Barcelona airport runway 840 meters into the Ricarda lagoon area, with a floating runway / Foment del Treball

However, the proposal also has its downsides, as it will affect the port's activity and limit the maximum height of the container cranes.  

"There must be consensus so we can have the best port and the best airport," Moreno said. 

Among the things to consider when analyzing each suggestion are environmental, political and economic costs, as well as the number of flights that the infrastructure can withstand. 

None of the 11 proposals were fully discartable or perfect, so they "do not have a miraculous solution," Moreno added. 

Airport connection 

One of the goals of the committee was also to look into the airport's access, such as the connecting metro lines, Rodalies train network and highways. 

As a result, one of the requests was that a high-speed train station be built to connect the airport to other cities.

A Vueling plane takes off from Barcelona airport on September 9, 2021
A Vueling plane takes off from Barcelona airport on September 9, 2021 / Àlex Recolons

"We know by certain that we do not want more passengers, we want to go even further," Lluis Moreno said.

The idea is for residents within 800 kilometers of the airport to be able to travel by high-speed train and then fly to other cities. 

Another suggestion by the committee was to better connect the sea port and the airport with a high-capacity road for trucks, allowing a "faster transport connection." 

Airport expansion 

Barcelona airport has seen huge growth in the past couple of decades, with passenger numbers increasing from around 17.5 million in 1999 to almost 53 million in 2019, making it the 6th busiest airport in all of Europe

The company that manages the airport, Aena, published a draft plan to expand it in 2021 by building a new satellite terminal and extending one of the existing runways, measures it said are needed if Barcelona’s El Prat airport is to become an international hub. 

Overall, the plan included an investment of around €1.7 billion into the Catalan airport, but it did not go through. 

Comments on the expansion

The acting Spanish Transport Minister Raquel Sánchez said on Monday that she has "maximum respect" for Foment del Treball's proposal, as it shows "people's desires" to transform the airport into an "intercontinental hub."

However, Sánchez emphasized that it is up to the Catalan government to decide which proposal will determine El Prat's future. 

The minister added that the Spanish government believes the best proposal is the one presented by Aena. 

Raquel Sánchez, acting transport minister

The Prat de Llobregat mayor, Lluís Mijoler, says that Foment's proposal is "an expired and failed project" based on "climate change denial."

"The best proposal would be to not do anything at all, but we know that what is best for capitalism turns out to be the worst option for people and natural spaces," Mijoler added. 

The mayor also said that the proposal "goes against Europe's common sense" in that a protected natural space cannot be destroyed.

Opinion on the proposals is divided: Catalonia’s business community is very much in favor of expansion, but there is fervent opposition to the plan from environmentalists and local residents alike.

Before Foment del Treball's presentation, the organization Zeroport spoke to media outlets to emphasize its position against the airport's expansion. They criticized all of the 11 suggestions made, as the group "cannot allow any approach that implies increasing the number of flights."

The entity emphasized that the debate about expanding Catalonia's infrastructures "should not be promoted" and has demanded a decrease in flights to reduce air pollution.

Press play below to listen to Filling the Sink, the Catalan News podcast, on the debate surrounding the expansion of the El Prat airport, published on July 10, 2021.