The expansion project of the Barcelona-El Prat airport has raised questions and proposals about the use of the Girona and Reus airports. One of the proposals proposes diverting 10 million passengers to these facilities as a solution to decongest Barcelona airport.

Let’s go by parts. First of all, flight destinations are decided by the airlines, not the airports! Ultimately, flying from one airport or another is a commercial decision by airlines based on supply and demand. While it is true that operating from airports such as Girona or Reus can be cheaper than from El Prat airport, it is the airlines that decide, based on costs and income, where to fly. It’s the market.

Secondly, let’s look at the numbers. Girona airport has a maximum operating capacity of 5.7 million passengers per year, while Reus airport is 2.5 million according to data from the DORA (Airport Regulation Document issued by the Ministry of Transport). Currently Girona reaches a volume of 1.6 million passengers and Reus 1 million.

In summary, Girona airport is operating at approximately 30% and Reus airport at approximately 40%. The surplus of both would give us a theoretical capacity of 5.6 million passengers between them. These figures represent 10% of the total capacity of the Barcelona-El Prat airport, which today has 50 million passengers per year and a maximum capacity of 55 million.

Attempting to divert a large part of the short-haul traffic from Barcelona-El Prat to these airports with proposals for 10 million passengers is completely unacceptable due to simple arithmetic: they do not fit. Analyzing this matter from a legal perspective, the companies that currently fly to Barcelona have takeoff and landing rights, called slots, of which they cannot easily be deprived, since they are their property.

Finally, I want to remember that short-haul planes feed long-haul planes, which means, once again, that it is the companies that define their commercial strategy to fly to one airport or another and take their connecting passengers. However, the airports of Girona and Reus play a fundamental role for flights to Barcelona.

In aviation it is important to differentiate between two very important aspects: planning and execution. By law and under the prevailing criteria of safety, airplanes cannot fly with just enough fuel to reach their destination. It is logical as unforeseen events may arise, such as the closure of the destination airport due to adverse weather conditions.

Companies are obliged to plan their flights with an alternative airport, that is, a plan B. This forces them to load more fuel to be able to divert if necessary. The further away the alternative airport is from your destination, the more fuel they will have to carry, which means more weight, greater consumption and cost. The fact that Barcelona has two airports so close, just 90 km away, contributes enormously to safety, efficiency and sustainability in terms of planning for companies that fly to Barcelona-El Prat airport.

Fortunately, there are few situations that require a detour to the alternative airport, but if this occurs, Girona and Reus represent a great advantage for passengers who will be just one hour from their final destination.

Airports like Madrid-Barajas cannot say the same as they have their alternatives (València or Zaragoza) 300 km away. This provides an additional competitive advantage to Barcelona airport and therefore to the airlines and their passengers. The difference between the fuel required for a plane to go from Madrid to its alternative airport is up to double compared to Barcelona.

Without a doubt, it has a great year-on-year impact on airlines’ income statements and on the environment. The airports of Girona and Reus can continue to grow in the number of operations and passengers and over time they will surely do so. Catalan society must consider not only what more the Girona and Reus airports can do, but also how much they currently contribute to the Barcelona airport.