Government studying option of sea runway at Barcelona Airport

Politicians divided on suitability of €2.1bn proposal from private consultancy firm

A plane taking off from the Barcelona airport (by Àlex Recolons)
A plane taking off from the Barcelona airport (by Àlex Recolons) / ACN
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

February 13, 2023 11:31 AM

February 13, 2023 11:47 AM

The future expansion of Barcelona-El Prat Airport is the source of perpetual debate among politicians and wider society in Catalonia. 

The latest idea to be floated is the construction of a new 3,400-meter-long runway, one nautical mile out to sea.  

A private consultancy firm has sent the €2.1bn proposal to the Catalan Government for consideration, Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia reported on Saturday. 

Government sources told the Catalan News Agency (ACN) that all options must be studied and that it is positive that there are experts working on this issue. 

This does not mean, the sources said, that president Pere Aragonès or his government have validated the proposal for a runway on the sea, but that they are aware of it and appreciate that ideas are put forward. The government has also received other proposals from various groups, the sources pointed out. 

Sticking point 

The expansion of Catalonia's main airport has proved to a political sticking point of late. It has been a source of tension between the Catalan and Spanish executives, between Catalonia's governing parties Esquerra Republicana (ERC) and Junts before the latter quit government, and between ERC and the Socialists (PSC) during the 2023 budget negotiations. 

In the end, pro-independence ERC and unionist PSC agreed to set up a technical commission between the Catalan and Spanish governments to address the future of the airport, with the aim of "transforming" it into an international hub. The Catalan executive insists that this agreement will be fulfilled and technical studies will be undertaken for all the various options. 

The proponents of the plan to build a new runway over the sea claim it would avoid the environmental impact on the area surrounding the airport, which has been one of the main subjects of controversy. 

"April Fool's Day story" 

The mayor of El Prat, Lluís Mijoler, lambasted the idea of a sea runway as "completely absurd" and "absolutely unfeasible." It was "an April Fool's Day story," he told Catalunya Ràdio on Sunday. 

Mijoler said that the same idea was ruled out in 2006 and is not technically viable, adding: "These supposed experts who propose a runway in the sea forget that there is an area of special protection for seabirds along the coast." 

Ada Colau, mayor of Barcelona, and like Mijoler a member of the left-wing, anti-austerity En Comú Podem, said the idea would be "very expensive" and "goes against good management and common sense." 

She said she does want "ambitious and multi-million-euro infrastructure," but spent on railway connections like the Mediterranean corridor between Catalonia and Valencia. 

Junts general secretary Jordi Turull said the proposal was "out of place and out of step," and environmentally damaging. It would be "curious," he said, if the ERC government were to examine the idea after rejecting other "serious proposals." 

The Socialists leader in Catalonia, Salvador Illa, said: "From an environmental point of view it seems more beneficial to lengthen an existing runway that to build a new one at sea." 

His party would "technically assess all the options" to increase capacity at Barcelona Airport, he added. 

Ideas welcome 

One of Colau's rivals in the upcoming local elections, ERC's Ernest Maragall, welcomed the new proposal, saying: "It's good that we have ideas, proposals and possible solutions," to compare, before making a decision. 

Referring to a previous airport expansion plan published by AENA, the semi-public Spanish airport management company that runs Barcelona Airport, Maragall said he was happy that "we're not talking about that project anymore, now we're talking about possible technical solutions." 

Carlos Carrizosa, of the unionist Ciudadanos party, gave his support to the runway as long as it meets environmental requirements and does not harm local residents. 

Business association Foment welcomed the fact that the government is open to debate on the airport's expansion but warned that the idea of building a runway out at sea would be more expensive than claimed and that it would have a serious environmental impact.