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Wastelands: Europe’s empty runways

by Nicky Gardner


Aviation is a growing industry. European airports saw over 5% growth last year. But that statistic masks the fact that ever more European airports are closing down. Quite what does one do with a disused airport?

In mid-January this year, a Bombardier CRJ900 aircraft took off from the Aeropuerto de Castellón-Costa Azahar and climbed into the sunny skies of the Spanish Levante. The olive groves receded into the distance as the pilot turned north-west, setting a course for San Sebastián in the Basque region. On board the plane, members of the Villarreal football team sat back and nervously pondered their upcoming evening match against San Sebastían.

At the airport, the three staff on duty locked the control tower and the terminal building and walked in the sunshine out to their vehicles in the car park. They drove home, no doubt reflecting on how the departure of Air Nostrum flight 2003 was a milestone in the history of their provincial airport.

The Aeropuerto de Castellón-Costa Azahar opened to traffic four years ago — at least in theory. It was intended to be a major element in the economic renewal of this rural region in eastern Spain. The airport has all the facilities that one might expect of a good regional airport. Yet it has no flights. No scheduled airline has ever shown any serious interest in flying to Castellón-Costa Azahar (IATA code CDT). That charter flight to San Sebastián on 15 January 2015 is the sole flight that has ever featured on the airport’s departure boards.

As Berliners, we naturally have to be cautious when it comes to the matter of airports. We live in a city which has its own aviation white elephant. At least that airport in eastern Spain was completed with all its fixtures and fittings in place — right down to the extraordinary 24-metre-high installation by artist Juan Ripollés which stands outside the terminal.

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