Thursday, 21 January 2010

An ancient name for a very modern aiport

In a previous post I commented on the inauguration of the new Lleida-Alguaire airport. One aspect of this new infrastructure that I think deserves a comment on its own is the choice of IATA code.

At first glance one might thought the obvious choices to be:

LLE or LED for Lleida, but these correspond to Malelane (South Africa) and Pulkovo (St.Petersburg, Russia)

maybe adding "Alguaire" to the code but this gives us:

LAG is taken by LaGuardia airport in NYC, LLA to Lulea in Sweden, LAL to Lakeland, FL.

so the winner was: ILD!

what does ILD stand for?

"Ilerda", the roman name of the city of Lleida, that also happen to be the location of one of the battles of the Roman Civil War between Julius Caesar and 49BC!

Foto: Julius Caesar, from Wikipedia

Aviation has, thus led this ancient name to a modern revival...!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

What happens when a major airport loses all of its traffic overnight?

Foto by Flickr user Berto Garcia under a Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

Last week I landed at the old terminal (T2) of Barcelona airport for the first time since the new terminal (T1) became operational at the end of last summer. Both terminals are actually part of the same airport (BCN), but they are physically separated, and they actually look like two separate airports, with the new terminal duplicating the capacity of the old one (see this story I wrote a few months ago)...and this is the problem! All three major airline alliances have moved to the new terminal, and the old one, that used to handle over 30 million passengers a year, is now virtually empty...well, not totally, a handful of airlines, with Easyjet and Air Berlin the largest of them, and some charter flights still use it, but the drop has been dramatic (the night that I landed, my Easyjet flight was the only one on sight). This is not totally bad for the passenger, that can enjoy plenty of space and no hassle, but it must have required a strong readjustment to the many shops and businesses that used to operate (or that still are) in the old terminal, and, most important of all, it sets a challenge upon the airport managers to find new traffic to fill the void.

Is Ryanair the solution?

Foto by Flickr user Andy_Mitchell_UK under a Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

The Irish airline has been quick to grab some of the extra available capacity and it has already announced its landing at BCN. Ryanair has already proven it can do well in the Catalan market, that already hosts two of its bases (Girona and Reus), both within one hour drive of Barcelona and I have no doubts that it will also do well in BCN. The airport authorities deny that Ryanair will enjoy any discount on its operating fees (a previous request that the Irish airline seems to have finally dropped), but one of the concerns remain: will Ryanair grab market-share up to the point where BCN becomes, over the long term, a Ryanair-dominated airport? this thought surely worries all those local stakeholders that over recent years have been working to make Barcelona a real contender in the European aviation scene (the lack of intercontinental routes is still BCN's main weakness). A precedent exists and it is positive, Ryanair also moved to take spare capacity after the T-4 terminal at Madrid-Barajas was inaugurated and its presence in that airport has contributed to a more competitive scenario that has benefited travelers. However, it must be said that whereas Madrid could count with the solid presence of Iberia as the dominant carrier, the situation at BCN is a bit more volatile, and the situation of the two main carriers currently operating out of BCN, Spanair in the full-service segment and Vueling as low-cost, looks (at least on paper) a bit more fragile...They have reasons to worry when seeing Ryanair at the gates...

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

New airport in Catalonia

The brand-new Lleida-Alguaire airport (ILD) was inaugurated last Sunday. This is the fourth operational commercial airport in Catalonia, the others being Barcelona-El Prat (BCN), Girona (GRO) and Reus (REU) and is expected to serve a large area of Western Catalonia , whose capital is the city of Lleida (Alguaire being the town were the airport is actually located)and the Pyrenees that until now were quite distant to any of the nearest airports (Barcelona, Reus and Zaragoza (ZAZ) being the obvious alternatives).Lleida-Alguaire is also the first airport that is entirely managed by the Catalan Government through its fully-owned company Aeroports de Catalunya (the other Catalan airports are managed by the Spanish government through AENA). From the design point of view it is interesting to remark how the the facilities have been designed and painted to blend with the surrounding landscape of cereal fields (see fotos).

Foto: Wikipedia

A Vueling A320 carried authorities and journalists for the historical (and short!) inaugural flight between Barcelona and Lleida (a route that will be flown only for the occasion), where a crowd was waiting and the firemen were ready to give them the traditional honour reception, showering the aircraft with their water-hoses.

Foto by Flickr user Malkav (Adrià Ariste Santacreu) under a Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0 License.

Some doubts remain about the capacity of the local economy to generate enough traffic to justify the investment, specially after the fiasco of the brand-new privately owned airport at Ciudad Real (CQM), that has barely managed to attract any traffic after its inauguration (despite the availability of a high-speed rail connection and some airlines' loose approach to airport names, the 230km that separate it from the centre of Madrid made the possibility of marketing it as "Madrid-South" a bit awkward).

However, there are reasons to be optimistic about the future of the airport: to start with, the Lleida region has a high income per capita and many companies with international activities call it home, secondly, the airport can become the gateway to a vast area of the Central and Western Pyrenees, including Andorra, with a large tourism potential, becoming an interesting and less congested alternative to both Barcelona and Toulouse (TLS) (the distance to the ski slopes is roughly the same from all these three airports).

The issue of the Pyrenean airport has a long story behind. There is an airport at La Seu d'Urgell, next to the border with Andorra, that despite some talk of it being reopened, has not been used by commercial aviation since the 80s due to low profitability and operational difficulties. The opening of Lleida airport might trouble the prospects of La Seu's airport...or maybe not (if more people start flying to the Pyrenees and overall demand grows)...however this will be the topic of another future post...

In any case, ILD starts with two airlines operating four different routes:
Vueling to Paris (ORY) and Palma de Mallorca (PMI)
Ryanair to Milan-Bergamo (BGY) and Frankfurt-Hahn (HHN)

From this blog we wish you all the best to the new airport Lleida-Alguaire and hope we will writing soon about new route openings...!