The expansion of El Prat: a project for the country
The need to expand El Prat airport should be beyond any doubt. As should be the fact that this expansion should be done with a great political, economic and citizen consensus that involves the conciliation of the economic view (obvious and essential) with the environmental one (on which Europe has the last word) and the social one (neighbours affected by the noise). The manifesto launched this Sunday by more than 200 entities, born from the proposal of Aena to move the project forward, expresses the urgency and importance of this bet, which connects with a historical claim of Catalan society. We only have to remember the civil society event at Iese in 2007, as a result of which the Zapatero government called for a tender that was finally cancelled in 2011 by the Rajoy government. A decade later, and on the verge of overcoming the pandemic, it is logical and timely to resume that frustrated momentum if we do not want to lose another decade. Throughout these years the Barcelona airport has been increasing the number of passengers until, before the outbreak of the virus, it approached the capacity limit of 55 million: if in 2007 33 million passengers passed through its facilities, in 2019 the figure had already risen to 53 million, which boosts Barcelona as a tourist, congress, research, logistics and industrial city.
As stated in the manifesto, which is signed by employers' associations, the RACC, the Cercle d'Economia, the Chamber of Commerce and Barcelona Tech City, an airport that is an intercontinental hub can mean that its contribution to the country's wealth will increase from 7% to 9% of GDP. The investment of 1,700 million that Aena would make is another argument that cannot be underestimated. Opportunities appear when they appear, and you have to seize them when they arise.
Having said that, Aena's specific project must be taken as a starting point from which to generate a national commitment and a political and technical consensus, which should involve the participation of all the administrations, but especially with the leadership of the government of the Generalitat and Barcelona City Council. And from here, to negotiate with the EU so that it approves an enlargement that will have to take environmental compensation very much into account: the green economy and the fight against climate change are European priorities that Barcelona and Catalonia also share and that, therefore, the El Prat project has to take on board. Technically there is more than one option, and it would be good for the debate to be rigorous and transparent. It is important to decide which runway should be extended (the proposal is the Sea runway, which would affect the Ricarda area, protected wetlands), how to build the new satellite terminal of T1 and the scope of the real estate development of T2. And also the crucial connection with the AVE, the high-speed rail, given that we are moving towards a global scenario of fewer local flights (to move towards decarbonisation) in favour of the train and in exchange for maintaining intercontinental flights, which are precisely the ones that need to be promoted at El Prat.
It is therefore necessary to start building a serious political and technical dialogue to ensure the necessary expansion of El Prat.