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Aircraft at Barcelona El-Prat Airport (Photo: Steven Lek [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)])

The Mayor of Barcelona Proposes Ending All Flights to Madrid

The aviation world is in turmoil in Spain after the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, announced a few days ago that she will request Barcelona-El Prat Airport, the main airport of the Catalonian city, to terminate all flights to destinations that can be reached by train, thereby included the famous ‘Puente Aereo,’ the shuttle service between Barcelona and the Spanish capital Madrid.

This is intended to reduce carbon emissions in the country since the high-speed train AVE (Alta Velocidad Española) produces 20 times less CO2, claims Ms. Colau, and therefore represents a greener alternative. High speed trains connect Barcelona Sants station to Madrid Atocha almost 20 times a day in each direction in two hours, 30 minutes in case of nonstop trains, and in slightly over three hours for trains stopping at intermediate stations.

Flights between Madrid Barajas and Barcelona El Prat take slightly over one hour, but train stations are located in the city centers while airports require considerable time to be reached. Furthermore, the check-in and boarding process for trains is substantially faster given the absence of security screening, making the door-to-door travel time faster by train than by airplane.

Currently, there are up to 30 daily flights between Barajas and El Prat operated by three carriers: Iberia, Vueling and Air Europa. Iberia and Vueling are part of the IAG group that has also made a takeover bid on Air Europa pending regulatory approval.

Once one of the busiest routes in Europe, the Barcelona-Madrid ‘Puente Aereo’ saw a sharp decrease in passengers when the Spanish state operator Renfe opened the high-speed link AVE on Oct. 20, 2008.

According to Eurostat data, in 2007 the route was flown by 4,697,775; two years later the figures had dropped to 2,942,406, a 37 percent drop. Ridership kept decreasing until 2014 when it recorded its lowest point at 2,204,737 and then it started growing at an average 2.1 percent per year up to 2,466,968 in 2018.

Trains are now by far the most popular option for travel between the two biggest cities in Spain: Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports that more than 4.1 million passengers a year use the AVE services on their flagship route, and airplanes are being chosen mainly because they tend to be cheaper than trains. AVE services are also extremely reliable, and a full refund is issued to passengers when a train is delayed by at least five minutes.

The plan by mayoress Colau, however, does not take into account the need of connecting passengers who would need to transfer from the train station to the airport or vice versa, which would add several hours to their journey.

Other airline routes with a viable rail alternative in Spain are Madrid-Valencia, Madrid-Alicante, Madrid-Malaga, Madrid-Sevilla and Barcelona-Valencia.

The debate is still ongoing, although it is unclear if Ms. Colau has any intention to move forward with any executive actions or whether she has any power to impose such a drastic measure.

Vanni Gibertini
Vanni Gibertini
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