Aena has taken an important step on the road to expanding the El Prat Airport this Friday, when it presented its plans to the Catalunya Airport Coordination Committee. This is one of the last requirements before sending the Airport Regulation Document (DORA) to the Council of Ministers, which plans to give the green light to the project later this month. Pending approval, the draft document specifies in detail the investments that the Ministry of Transport plans to make in all the State’s airports and, specifically, in the Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat, one of the most controversial points due to the impact of protected natural areas.
The Government ensures that expanding the El Prat airport is compatible with environmental objectives
From the outset, the DORA quantifies the total investment in the Barcelona air base at 1,704 million euros in total until 2030. However, as these types of plans are five-year, those that it lists in detail are the first 364.96 million, which will be contributed over five years, between 2022 and 2026. According to the annex to the document, which is still open for review although in the preliminary phase, this figure would be injected into El Prat in a phased manner, starting next year with 51, 73 million and, in 2023, with another 43.40.
According to the numbers managed by Aena, therefore, during the current legislature, 5.6% of the figure of 1,700 million agreed globally with the Government would be invested. During these first two years, the funds would also go to, on the one hand, all the technical preparations for the expansion and, on the other, to introduce improvements to the current facilities. For example, there is a forecast of 17.9 million the first year and 8.7 the second in safety of people and facilities and another 25.8 between the two years in support and replacement investments.
The bulk of the works would take time to start and would begin in 2024 with the expansion of the current Terminal 1 and the construction of a satellite terminal, known as TS1. For these aspects there are 18.9 million provisioned of the 61.8 that will be invested in total that year. From then on the budget skyrockets, since in 2025 the expansion phase of the runway itself would begin. This extension of the airfield would take 42.5 and 39.9 million in the last two years of the plan, which ends in 2026.
In total, DORA foresees five main investments in the next five years. The most important is the construction and expansion of terminals, with a budget of 108.4 million, closely followed by the lengthening of the runway, which takes 92 million. At the bottom of the scale, support investments and safety improvement accounted for 46.4 and 45.8 million respectively. A total of 25 million is finally dedicated to environmental sustainability.
Clash within the Generalitat
Since Aena’s intention to expand the El Prat runway closest to the sea, which is in turn the shortest, was known, its arguments have been that it is necessary so that the number of passengers can continue to grow, on the one hand, and for the infrastructure to become a hub international. In 2019, the figure of 53 million travelers was reached and the airport operator is convinced that after the epidemic the volume of users will recover and continue to grow.
However, the obstacles that Aena must overcome in order for enlargement to become a reality mainly go through Brussels and perhaps also –again– through the Generalitat. With the Catalan Executive, the Government reached an agreement on the expansion of El Prat. President Pere Aragonès clarified, however, that they were committed to making the infrastructure grow as long as the protected lagoon of La Ricarda was not affected.
Now an internal clash has opened in the Generalitat. While Aragonès, from ERC, understands that the DORA –with its confirmation of affectation of the lagoons– goes beyond what was agreed with the Government, from the Vice Presidency, Jordi Puigneró’s team –of Junts– believes that the document “does not contradict itself “with the agreement.
Aragonès has been forceful in a message on Twitter: “We demand explanations and the rectification of a DORA that damages the protected area of La Ricarda. Every step that has to include the commitment to consensus”, he said. The president thus implied that the agreement with the Government did not include the nature of the expansion in such detail, although from Aena they have always taken it for granted, and have thus transmitted it to the city councils in numerous meetings, that affecting the lagoon is inevitable and that his plan is to seek compensation elsewhere.
Be that as it may, the extension must also pass through Brussels, where the European Commission will have to pronounce on its authorization, since the Natura 2000 Network spaces are regulated by this institution. “If a priority habitat or species is affected, as seems to be the case with this project, an opinion from the Commission is necessary,” the Commissioner for the Environment Virginijus Sinkevičius recently assessed in a letter.