Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The big news today is a real MEGO (My Eyes Glaze Over)--the distribution of slots at the new Barcelona airport terminal, to be finished in 2009. AENA, a company owned by the Spanish government, is in charge of managing all the airports in Spain, and it decided how the slots would be divided up.

AENA said the criteria it used to decide which airlines would get which slots included: how many passengers each airline currently transports; how many international connections each airline provides; and the presence of the two airlines with their headquarters in Barcelona, Clickair and Vueling. (Clickair is controlled by Iberia Airlines; Vueling is in deep trouble with its share price collapsing.)

Note: As a free-market and decentralizing kind of guy, I would of course prefer the privatization of AENA. And I think AENA, or whoever is in charge of the airport, should auction off slots to the highest bidder.

However, the Cataloonies are naturally pissed off. They're always pissed off. They look for things to be pissed off about, and if there's nothing, they'll find something anyway. I really have no idea what's angering them, since the Barcelona airport is being expanded and there will be more flights and more growth and more business for everybody.

I did do some research, and discovered:

Barcelona's El Prat airport serves 30 million passengers a year, and will have a capacity of 55 million after the expansion. Barcelona is what they call a "focus city," meaning that it's not a hub, and that it specializes in point-to-point flights within Spain and Europe; it does have a few direct connections to Asia and the US.

Madrid's Barajas airport serves 45 million passengers a year, with a capacity of 70 million after its expansion is finished. Iberia, Spain's former government-owned airline, provides 60% of Barajas's traffic. Barajas serves as Iberia's hub, especially for flights between Europe and Latin America, which provide the majority of Iberia's profits.

Iberia has been privatized; British Airways owns 10% and has right of first refusal on up to 49% of the shares. (Because of bilateral agreements with Latin American countries, who are not part of the Open Skies US-EU arrangement, 51% of Iberia must stay in Spanish hands or the airline will lose its privileges in those countries.) The savings bank Caja Madrid owns 10%, Spanish bank BBVA owns 7%, Logista owns 6.5%, Sepi, the state-owned holding company, still owns 5.2%, which should be sold off immediately, and El Corte Ingles, of all people, owns 2.9%.

Last year Iberia decided to reduce its service to Barcelona for obvious reasons: they were losing a bunch of money, largely due to competition from low-cost airlines on non-stop flights to other major European cities. So they decided to spin off many of their Barcelona routes and form a new low-cost airline, Clickair. No other airline wants to step in and make Barcelona the center of a hub-and-spoke system; London, Frankfurt, Paris, and Amsterdam already do that, as does Barajas. Barcelona's job is to feed traffic into those hubs, and to transport people nonstop to other major Spanish and European cities.

And of course, the market is always right. If there were a market for more routes out of Barcelona, you can bet the airlines would be all over it because their job is to make as much money as possible. Hell, it looks like there is such a market, which is why they are building the new terminal, and why the various airlines want slots there. It just doesn't look like there's a market for direct flights to Tokyo and Sydney and LA and Sao Paulo.

Oh, one more thing. The slot assignments AENA made are merely provisional and will most likely be changed before the new terminal actually enters service.

So check out these comments from the online readers of La Vanguardia; they've gotten 376 so far, and of course all of them are related to the eternal debate about whether Madrid is screwing us over again as usual. Observe some of these pearls of reasoning:

Barajas is taking advantage of a decision dictated from above: Madrid should be a hub and the rest of the Spanish airports mere satellites. We cannot compete while El Prat is managed from Madrid by a consortium with interests in the capital. I am very indignant and more and more convinced that Spain is ripping us off.

We're bending over again. What do they think, that we're sucking our thumbs? We want direct intercontinental flights. If we don't get them, we must boycott Barajas and its new terminal. I will make connections in any European airport that is not Madrid.

The fault is the Generalitat's, which is bending over again as usual. We should create a Catalan airline connecting Catalonia to the world without layovers, and manage our own airports.

Spain has ripped us off again. I'm sick of being in this State, which does not even let us breathe.

In Madrid they want to handcuff us so they can make Barajas stronger.

They piss on us and say it's raining. Spain as usual will keep ripping us off.

Many of us are very angry. Now we need Catalan civil society to mobilize and go out in the street to defend what the current submissive Tripartite government does not dare defend: CATALONIA.

I can tell you that PP minister Arias Salgado met with the Madrid hotels lobby because they were afraid that if El Prat became an intercontinental airport, that would cost Madrid hotels millions. Arias Salgado promised them that El Prat would not be intercontinental.

Now everything is decided in Madrid, which is a direct competitor of El Prat. With this management we cannot aspire to be more than a satellite, with all of its political and economic implications.

If Madrid robs us and does not allow us to improve our economy, we will have to do something.

Paranoia? Or lucid political and economic analysis? You be the judge.

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