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LIFE IN SPAIN

Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Barcelona's controversial airport expansion project has currently been put on hold because of differences between Catalan authorities and Spain’s national government. But, if plans do go ahead, here's everything you need to know about a project that aims to transform Spain's second airport into a major international hub.

Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport's €1.7 billion planned expansion
Artists's render showing what El Prat's new satellite terminal will look like once completed. Image: Aena

€1.7 billion investment

Catalonia’s Generalitat and Spain’s national government agreed in August that the €1.7 billion figure proposed by the country’s airport operator AENA will be invested into the expansion of Josep Tarradellas El Prat, the Catalan capital’s main airport. 

The government led by Pedro Sánchez also announced it would invest €1.6 billion in Madrid’s Barajas Adolfo Suárez airport. 

These vast sums of money form part of the €140 billion Spain will receive from the EU’s coronavirus recovery fund, meaning that they still need full approval by the European Commission (EC) to go ahead with the revamp.  

However, in mid-September Catalan leader Pere Aragonès and his government said they did not want the project to affect the nearby wetlands and La Ricarda Lagoon. This caused differences between Spain’s national government and the Catalan authorities, meaning that the expansion project has currently been put on hold. 

Major hub 

The expansion is a multifaceted project but the main aim is to transform Barcelona’s El Prat into a major airport hub for long-haul international flights, one that can compete with the likes of Dubai, Singapore or Heathrow. 

One of the key targets is to improve flight connections with America and Asia and for El Prat to become one of Europe’s main hubs connecting both continents.

As Catalan vicepresident Jordi Puigneró put it, El Prat should go from “being a low-cost airport to a value-added airport”. 

“One of the great problems that the Catalan economy has today is that when it comes to travel to other parts of the world, passengers very often have to make stopovers, so we lose competitiveness,” Puigneró argued about the lack of direct international flights to Barcelona. 

Aena has already invested €48 million in 2021 to readapt El Prat’s Terminal 1 for it to be able to house larger long-haul aircraft such as the Airbus A380.

In 2019, Barcelona-El Prat received 52.7 million passengers, only behind Madrid’s 61.7 million. 

If given the green light by the European Commission, El Prat’s expansion will begin in 2022.

Render showing what El Prat’s new satellite terminal will look like. Image: Aena

Connecting Catalan airports

El Prat’s planned expansion will bring with it high-speed rail connections to the region’s two other main airports: Reus (Tarragona) and Girona.

Once completed, it will reportedly take just 30 minutes by train to reach either airport from El Prat, a scheme which will boost flights leaving from these smaller airports whilst also decongesting air traffic at El Prat. 

Plenty of jobs 

According to the Spanish government, El Prat’s revamp will create 85,000 jobs directly and 365,000 indirectly.

It will also reportedly increase Catalonia’s GDP by 2.1 points.

‘The greenest in Europe’ 

During a radio interview following the agreement reached between both governments, Catalan vicepresident Jordi Puigneró proposed that Barcelona-El Prat become “the greenest airport in Europe”.

“New types of fuels will be released and we will be able to make decisions about what type of aircraft we want to land at El Prat,” Puigneró argued, adding that reducing the carbon intensity for mobility around the airport should also be a goal. 

“We must do everything possible so that this airport ends up being better than the one we have now.”

New satellite terminal and runway may not be so green 

One of the project’s main features, the construction of a satellite terminal to support the extension of El Prat’s third runway by 500 metres, will encroach on the protected space of La Ricarda.

Environmentalists and neighbouring municipalities oppose this expansion for the environmental impact and noise pollution it could cause, and there’s reason to believe this could be a stumbling block for a project that requires EU approval.  

People hold a banner reading “Protect the delta” during a demonstration against the construction of a third runway at the Barcelona airport in El Prat de Llobregat, near Barcelona, on June 12, 2021. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

European Commissioner for Environment Virginijus Sinkevicius has already warned that before the expansion “can go ahead, it’s necessary to address the existing deficiencies” in the Llobregat Delta, for which the EC has opened two infringement procedures against Spain.  

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau is also against the enlargement of a runway if it affects the protected area. 

Spain’s national government initially proposed to increase the runway and satellite terminal area by 1,091 hectares, but Aena has since announced only 45 hectares of La Ricarda would be used, in return promising to protect 280 hectares of the Llobregat Delta.

Aerial shot showing El Prat airport’s runways and airport next to the Llobregat Delta. Photo: unknown/Wikipedia

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TRAVEL NEWS

Spain’s summer strike calendar: The days you might want to avoid flying

Following the announcement that Ryanair and EasyJet staff have added further strike days in July 2022, we list the dates that travellers looking to fly to and from Spain may want to avoid booking tickets for.

Spain's summer strike calendar: The days you might want to avoid flying

Strike action by Spain-based cabin crew working for Ryanair and EasyJet will continue throughout the month of July, unions representing staff for Europe’s two biggest low-cost airlines have confirmed.

EasyJet’s strike days in July will continue as initially announced on June 21st.

In Ryanair’s case, the six-day stoppage was meant to come to an end on Saturday July 2nd, but a further 12 days of strikes have been added throughout the month of July due to the failure to reach an agreement over cabin crew’s low pay and work conditions. 

“After six days of strike and in view of the unwillingness of the company to listen to its staff and its preference for leaving thousands of passengers grounded rather than sitting down to negotiate an agreement under Spanish law, we have been forced to call new strike days,” USO unionist Lidia Arasanz said with regard to the 1,900 Ryanair employees they represent.

So far, the stoppages by Ryanair and Easyjet staff have not meant that absolutely all their flights to and from Spain have been cancelled, but dozens of scheduled flights have indeed not taken off and hundreds more have suffered delays on these previous strike days. 

Minimum services have been provided for flights within the Spanish mainland and to and from the Canary and Balearic Islands, especially those leaving from Madrid, Málaga, Barcelona, ​​Alicante, Seville, Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, Girona, Santiago de Compostela and Ibiza airports.

A Ryanair cabin crew member holds a placard reading “Ryanair, low salaries made simple” as she protests at Terminal 2 of El Prat airport in Barcelona on June 24, 2022. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

For international flights the situation is more complicated, especially for Ryanair passengers with scheduled flights from Belgium, Italy, France and Portugal, as the low-cost airline’s cabin crew in those countries have also joined the strikes.

Even though UK-based Ryanair and EasyJet staff are not on strike, the sheer number of flights between Spain and the UK has meant that thousands of British holidaymakers have already been affected.

Málaga, Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca’s airports have reportedly been the most affected by Ryanair and EasyJet flight cancellations thus far.

READ ALSO: What are your rights if flights are delayed or cancelled?

Many EasyJet and Ryanair passengers who have already booked flights to and from Spain for July will no doubt want to know with plenty of notice if their flight will be cancelled, something that is not possible to know in most cases until the airline emails or texts them.

Ryanair’s management has said it expects “minimal (if any) disruption to its flight schedules in July as a result of minor and poorly- supported Spanish labour strikes”, although if what’s happened over the course of late June and early July is anything to go by, that won’t necessarily be the case.

The Irish carrier did acknowledge that “air traffic control strikes and airport staff shortages across Europe (which are beyond Ryanair’s control) may however cause some minor disruption and passengers whose flights are disrupted will be notified by email/SMS”.

It is possible to use Ryanair’s flight tracker to check on the status of your upcoming flight, but you’re unlikely to get accurate information if done lots of days in advance.

Dozens of EasyJet flights have been cancelled so far, even though the airline’s management says it intends to operate all of them. (Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP)

EasyJet has also said it intends to operate all its scheduled flights in July, whilst acknowledging that there could be some delays and other disruptions. 

On Sunday July 3rd, eight EasyJet flights to and from Spain were cancelled and 46 were delayed.

On Tuesday July 5th, EasyJet’s chief operating officer Peter Bellew resigned, allegedly “to pursue other business opportunities”, news which certainly suggests that all is not well at the Luton-headquartered airline.

You can also use EasyJet’s flight tracker here to find out if your flight is going ahead

For those of you who have booked a Ryanair or Easyjet flight to and/or from Spain for July, or those who are considering doing so, the following is a breakdown of all the scheduled strike days by cabin crew for both airlines for the coming weeks.

Ryanair strike days 

Tuesday July 12th

Wednesday July 13th

Thursday July 14th

Friday July 15th

Monday July 18th

Tuesday July 19th

Wednesday July 20th

Thursday July 21st

Monday July 25th

Tuesday July 26th

Wednesday July 27th

Thursday July 28th

Easyjet strike days

Friday July 15th

Saturday July 16th

Sunday July 17th

Friday July 29th

Saturday July 30th

Sunday July 31st

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