16,500 British skiers to go to the Pyrenees through Lleida-Alguaire airport

Thanks to a five-year contract, the Catalan Government undertakes the enlargement of the airport terminal and Neilson-Thomas Cook agrees to include ski resorts in the Lleida Pyrenees as part of its winter holiday offer.

CNA / Marc Navarro

June 14, 2011 08:25 PM

Lleida (ACN).- The Catalan Government has closed a deal with British tour operator Neilson-Thomas Cook that will bring 16,500 skiers to the Catalan Pyrenees through Lleida-Alguaire airport. The deal will bring six weekly charters over a five-year period, starting next December. Neilson Thomas Cook, which will stop operating from Toulouse Airport in order to fly passengers to the Pyrenees, has also agreed to include the Lleida ski resorts in its catalogue The Catalan Government has also undertaken a 1,5 million euro investment in order to enlarge the terminal to fulfill the demands of the tour operator before the skiing season starts.

The Catalan Government’s Director General for Transport and Mobility, Ricard Font, explained that the five-year contract between the Catalan executive and Neilson-Thomas Cook foresees the arrival of 16,500 skiers for each winter season. Between December 19th, when the first charters will arrive at Alguaire, and March 18th 2012, when operations will stop, Neilson-Thomas Cook hope to have transported more than 33,000 passengers through Lleida-Alguaire airport (counting both incoming and outgoing flights). Flights from London, Belfast, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol will leave every Sunday.

In order to operate their flights to Lleida, the British tour operator has made several demands to the Catalan Government, such as being able to fly two Boeing B757, with a capacity for 280 passengers, per hour. To meet these demands, the Government will invest about 1.5 million euros in enlarging both the arrivals and departures terminals, and especially the boarding and check-in areas. Leisure offers will also be expanded and the cafeteria will grow from its current 120 square metres to approximately 780 square metres. Font made it clear that the enlargement will be “affordable” and will be tailor-made according to the needs of the tour operator.

Font pointed out that during the first year of the contract, the tour operator will have a zero tax rate. The following years, this tax will increase by 20% until the fifth year, when Neilson-Thomas Cook will pay 80% of the taxes. In return, the contract envisages that the tour operator include in its seasonal offer the ski resorts in the Lleida Pyrenees and includes their intention to meet with different ski resorts in order to set up new business opportunities. Nevertheless, Neilson will keep working with ski resorts in Andorra.

The Catalan Government delegate in Lleida, Ramon Farré, explained that the agreement includes a clause in case Neilson-Thomas Cook breaks the contract. However, he is convinced that this will not be needed. “Neilson-Thomas Cook is a serious operator and Lleida airport is very efficient and the best one to fly to the Pyrenees”, Farré said. The clause makes it clear that, if the tour operator breaks the contract, it will have to pay the Catalan Government back.

Opening the airport to the non-Schengen area

Font recalled that for Neilson-Thomas Cook’s operations to start depends on the airport being able to receive flights from outside the Schengen area. Authorization has to be first approved by the Spanish Government and then by the Spanish Congress. Font said he is convinced that this will happen soon.

According to the Catalan Government delegate in Lleida, the possibility of flying out and receiving flights from outside Schengen, together with the enlargement of the new facilities in Lleida-Alguaire, will also favor the arrival of new companies and tour operators to the airport. The delegate confirmed contacts with several commercial airlines. However, he is cautious and does not want to advance any news until these agreements are closed.

Ricard Font also said that work is being done in order to making the transport of goods from the Lleida airport possible.