Barcelona has long been the second busiest airport in Spain after Madrid and in recent times it has become a battle-ground for low-cost carriers attempting to establish themselves in the Spanish market. Spain’s two soon-to-merge homegrown LCCs clickair and Vueling both began their feverish growth from Barcelona’s El Prat airport as a response to the ‘invasion’ by foreign LCCs such as easyJet and Virgin Express, and Ryanair which set up a base at Girona some 90 kilometres north of El Prat. Later this year Ryanair will open another base at Reus, which is around 80 kilometres south of Barcelona.
Passenger growth has accelerated in recent years with the completion of various infrastructure projects.
Most of clickair’s routes from Barcelona were formerly operated by Iberia, which is a major investor in the airline and in recent months the carrier has flown more passengers through the airport than any other airline.
Spanair leading airline for domestic routes
Domestic services represent around 47% of scheduled flights and 45% of seat capacity at present. Spanair, which SAS has now reluctantly decided to hang on to after being unable to find a buyer, has the biggest market share and offers 20 routes. Iberia, thanks primarily to its 209 weekly departures to Madrid still ranks second ahead of clickair, Air Europa and Vueling.
|Airline||Frequency share||Capacity share||Number of routes|
|Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 July 2008|
Apart from Iberia, Spanair also operates 100 weekly departures to Madrid, Air Europa 39 and Vueling 22. However, capacity on this route has been cut since the start of the year due to the launch of high-speed rail (HSR) services.
High-speed rail already claiming quarter of BCN-MAD air market
|In 2007 almost 5m passengers flew between Barcelona and Madrid making it by some margin Europe’s busiest airport-pair route. But the new high speed rail link opened in February will reduce journey times between city centres from around four hours to just two hours 30 minutes. As a result total airport traffic was down 4.7% in May.|
In 2007 around five million passengers flew the almost 500 kilometres between Barcelona and Madrid, making it by some margin Europe’s busiest airport-pair route. Earlier this year, on 20 February, after much delay, high-speed rail services were finally introduced between the two cities, reducing city centre to city centre rail journey times from three hours 55 minutes to two hours 38 minutes. As anticipated, this has had a significant impact on air travel demand as shown in the graph below.
The re-timing of Easter makes the March and April figures unrepresentative, but for May air travel is down 27% compared to the previous year. There are currently 17 daily rail services on trains that reach 300 km/h on dedicated rail tracks.As a result of this competition total airport traffic at Barcelona was down 4.7% in May and year-to-date total passenger demand is down 0.8%. This compares with 6% growth at Madrid, 14% growth at Alicante and 8% growth at Bilbao and Seville.
|Spanish railways promotional video of new high-speed Barcelona – Madrid service|
Some notable omissions among international markets served
International flights represent over half of all operations at the airport with the UK, Italy, Germany and France the leading country markets.
|Source: OAG Max Online for w/c 7 July 2008|
An indication of how popular Barcelona is as a tourist destination is that Spanish carriers have a paltry 12% of flights to and from the UK, and 16% of flights to and from Germany. A total of 44 countries are served with scheduled non-stop services from Barcelona, though long-haul markets are limited to Argentina, Canada, Colombia, Mexico and the USA. All the US services are operated by US carriers with Delta serving both Atlanta and JFK, while American (JFK), Continental (Newark) and US Airways (Philadelphia) all operate services from their major hubs.
There are no scheduled services to Asia and the only routes to the Middle East are to Egypt and Jordan. The only Polish destination served is Warsaw and there are no flights to any of the major Middle Eastern hubs in Abu Dhabi, Doha or Dubai.
Non-Spanish airlines continue to add routes
|American Airlines recently started services between New York JFK and Barcelona. Present at the launch were (l-r): Maria Sebastian, American Airlines Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for Europe, the Middle East and Africa; Josep Manuel Basáñez, Deputy Chairman of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce; Fernando Echegaray, Managing Director of Barcelona Airport; Ricard Frigola, Economic Promotion manager at Barcelona City Council and Manel Nadal, Secretary for Transport of the Catalan Autonomous Government and Chairman of the Air Routes Development Committee.|
Foreign airlines that have started new routes to Barcelona since the beginning of the year include American Airlines (daily from JFK), Atlas Blue (twice weekly from Tangier), bmibaby (thrice weekly from Cardiff), British Airways (six times weekly from London City), Norwegian (thrice weekly from Oslo Rygge) and Sterling (twice weekly from Malmo).
In September bmibaby will re-launch services from Manchester (in competition with Monarch), while Wizz Air will briefly serve Sofia before moving flights to Girona.
Barcelona’s Air Route Development Committee (CDRA)
Enterprising Barcelona has an Air Route Development Committee (Comitè de Desenvolupament de Rutes Aèries or CDRA) made up of the Catalan government, the Chamber of Commerce, Barcelona City Council and AENA to promote international and intercontinental routes. Meeting recently to present its summary of the third year of operation CDRA, the city’s Deputy Mayor for Economic Promotion and the Treasury Jordi William Carnes called the CDRA an “essential tool” for the city, forecasting: “There will be a new route to North America provided by American Airlines.”