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).
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...!