Saturday

21st May 2022

Magazine

Beja airport: A runway to nowhere?

  • Opened in 2011, Beja airport receives two flights per week (Photo: Benjamin Fox)

From the outside, Beja international airport looks clean and snazzy. Inside, the six check-in desks, car rental services and tourist information office are all ready to serve you.

However, there is one problem. For the moment, few people fly there. The runway, an impressive 3.4 kilometres long, stands empty.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

Since the airport was opened in 2011, after over a year of delay, just over 5,000 passengers on fewer than 200 flights have passed through the arrival gates.

Airport director Pedro Neves told EUobserver that 90 flights are expected to come in and out of Beja in 2013 - equivalent to just under two per week.

Despite this lack of activity, as part of its operating license the airport has to be prepared to receive any kind of plane at three hours notice. It still employs 17 staff on the site.

The site, which was previously used as a military airbase, was converted at a cost of €33 million, co-financed by the Portuguese government and the EU.

It is not clear whether the economic crisis has been a contributing factor in the airport's failure to secure regular flights from a single carrier.

Budget airline Ryanair had been touted as a possible customer, but chose instead to focus on increasing its Portuguese services to Faro in the Algarve, already a popular tourist destination.

For the sake of comparison, last year Lisbon airport saw more than 15 million passengers come through its doors, while Faro and Oporto saw 5.6 million and 6 million travellers, respectively.

If Neves is disappointed by the airport's apparent failure to attract tourists, he is not showing it.

He says he expects "significant numbers of passengers" to use the airport by 2017-2018.

Meanwhile, with the airport unlikely to get revenue from passenger flights any time soon, it has shifted its attention to transporting cargo and providing long-term parking facilities for aircraft.

Neves says that the €11 million cost of a new aircraft hangar, needed to enable the airport to fly cargo, is to be financed exclusively by aircraft maintenance firm Aeromec.

However, this too has been delayed.

Construction of the hangar was originally expected to start in autumn 2012, only for the project, which is expected to create around 150 jobs, to be postponed because of funding delays. Work is now not expected to begin until 2014.

An agreement has also been signed with Portuguese airline TAP to provide a maintenance and parking service for planes.

Local officials, including Beja's mayor, Jorge Pulido Valente, do not see the airport as a failure, claiming that the cargo facilities will make it easier to transport the region's rich array of agricultural produce.

It also forms part of a transport hub, they say, complementing the region's recently built highways and the port at nearby Sines, 50km away.

But while visiting the deserted airport is a surreal experience, it is difficult to assess whether it has been a victim of Portugal's economic troubles or is simply a 'white elephant' project that should never have been built.

That companies are prepared to invest in developing the site suggests that its long-term business model is viable.

For the moment, however, it offers a runway to nowhere.

This story was originally published in EUobserver's 2013 Regions & Cities Magazine.

Click here to read previous editions of our Regions & Cities magazine.

Magazine

If you build it, will they come?

As EU-backed projects go, the hydroelectric Alqueva dam in the Alentejo region of Portugal looks mighty impressive.

Ghost airports drain EU taxpayers' money

Twenty EU-financed airports in Estonia, Greece, Italy, Poland and Spain have misspent large sums of EU taxpayers' money for well over a decade.

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

Magazine

A tourist's guide to EU-funded Amsterdam

When it comes to projects paid for by EU regional funds, most people think of roads in Romania or bridges in Bulgaria. But richer regions also receive money. EUobserver takes you on a tour of selected projects in Amsterdam.

Magazine

A deep dive into the EU regional funds

While the regional funds account for a full third of the EU budget, they are somewhat under-reported. EUobserver's latest edition of the Regions & Cities magazine looks at the EU's cohesion policy.

Magazine

The EU Agencies Race

In this edition of EUobserver's Regions & Cities magazine, we take a closer look at some of the EU agencies, exploring how their location matters and the benefits for cities and regions to host them.

News in Brief

  1. UK to send 'hundreds' of migrants to Rwanda each year
  2. Norwegian knife attacks were domestic dispute
  3. Sweden hits back at Turkey's 'disinformation' in Nato bid
  4. Germany's Schröder gives up one of two Russia jobs
  5. G7 countries pledge €18bn in financial aid for Ukraine
  6. Italian unions strike in protest over military aid for Ukraine
  7. Russia cuts gas supply to Finland
  8. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. What Europe still needs to do to save its bees
  2. Remembering Falcone: How Italy almost became a narco-state
  3. Economic worries and Hungary on the spot Next WEEK
  4. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  5. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  6. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'
  7. More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes
  8. French EU presidency struggling on asylum reforms

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us