Rethink sees Lleida–Alguaire Airport reach 10th anniversary

Despite not living up to initial expectations, the airport in Catalonia's western province has changed strategy to target aeronautical services

Outside Lleida-Alguaire airport in western Catalonia (by ACN)
Outside Lleida-Alguaire airport in western Catalonia (by ACN) / ACN

ACN | Lleida

January 17, 2020 01:23 PM

Lleida–Alguaire Airport, near Catalonia's western provincial capital of Lleida, celebrates its 10th anniversary on Friday, a decade in which the first airport built and run by the Catalan government has had to constantly adapt in order to remain relevant.

Opened on January 17, 2010, the airport was originally meant to handle mostly goods traffic, but after little success, the Catalan authorities were forced to change strategy and in recent years have turned the facility into an airport serving certain niche business areas.

Above all, that has seen Lleida–Alguaire Airport focus on industrial uses linked to the aeronautical sector, and today there are some 25 companies that are based there or that depend on the airport, directly and indirectly providing work for some 250 people.

Initial investment of 90 million euros

Work on the airport began in 2007, with an initial investment of 90 million euros that has gone up over the years with the expansion of its terminal and other improvements made. In fact, Lleida–Alguaire has the widest runway in Spain, at 61 meters.

In some ways, the project has completely failed to live up to the expectations. The original plan foresaw that after a decade the airport would be handling some 395,000 passengers a year and 3,500 tonnes of goods.

The reality is that in 2019, Lleida–Alguaire Airport had 58,614 passengers, while the transport of goods barely got off the ground. Yet, passenger numbers went up last year from 45,532 in 2018, and there were some 30,000 flights, 400% more than the year before.

That huge rise in the number of flights at the airport is largely due to the flying schools based there and the training of pilots, which have been a success and the infrastructure secretary, Isidre Gavín, insists that the government has "turned it into a productive airport."

Aircraft storage, fairs and filming

Along with the flying schools, a number of companies have begun using the facilities, such as Aeronpark and Servitec, offering aircraft storage, or those offering maintenance services, which have attracted airlines, such as Norwegian and Icelandair.

In any case, the success of the airport as a base providing aeronautical services means there are plans this year to build two new hangars, while Aeroports de Catalunya, which manages the airport, has a project to increase the airport's capacity for parking aircraft.

At the same time, Lleida–Alguaire Airport has in recent year's begun to host fairs and festivals related to the aeronautical sector, while it has also become a film set for some 40 productions so far, which have brought in 300,000 euros in revenue.

Regular flights to the Balearic Islands

While Lleida–Alguaire Airport began with offering Vueling and Ryanair flights, the low-cost airlines abandoned the airport in 2011. However, today, Air Nostrum offers regular flights to Palma de Mallorca, and to Menorca and Ibiza in the summer months.

The airport also became something of a center for tour operators offering skiing holidays to the Catalan Pyrenees. Yet, the recent failure of Thomas Cook has meant the loss of the mostly British skiers, and now only Quality Travel continues to offer charters for skiers.