Key bodies and major entrepreneurial names from the Catalan business sector came together this Wednesday to call on the public administrations to reach agreement on the expansion of Barcelona's El Prat airport. In an event held at the ESADE business school, and led by employers association Foment del Treball and the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, the organizations put forward their arguments for why Barcelona's ability to continue competing with other major European cities depends on having a larger airport.
The president of Foment, Josep Sánchez Llibre, very clearly set out 10 reasons for expanding the El Prat airport. The first, and most obvious, is the demand to the administrations to reach an agreement in order to go ahead with what would be a massive investment for Catalonia and the creation of more than 350,000 jobs. In the same vein, he warned that if the airport is not expanded, Barcelona will lose its strength as a city.
Sánchez Llibre asserted that Catalonia must not miss this investment opportunity, but without forgetting that the expansion of El Prat must be accompanied by an agreement with the EU to continue protecting the biodiversity in the delta of the Llobregat, where the airport is located.
Barcelona, limited by its infrastructures
For her part, the president of the Barcelona Chamber of Commerce, Mònica Roca, affirmed that a better airport would bring a great deal of added value to Catalonia and Barcelona and also argued that it would mean the city could choose the travelers who bring the most benefits. In this regard, she recalled that right now, Barcelona is limited by its infrastructures, when it should be the other way around - and that if the city aspires to be a hub, it must attract intercontinental flights.
In addition, she seconded Sánchez Llibre's words on calling for the need for exigency in terms of compensation for the natural spaces affected by the extension of El Prat and exhaustive control on the agreements reached, to ensure compliance - an issue the European Commission has already raised. In the same vein as Foment, Roca asked the governments at different levels not to miss the opportunity for this large investment in Catalonia by the Spanish public airport operator Aena.
"We need a first class airport"
Earlier, the economist and former Catalan government minister Andreu Mas-Colell had opened the event to demand the expansion of the airport. The first argument he presented was that Barcelona and Catalonia "need a first-class airport", recalling that one of the decisive points for the recent decision by the European Medicines Agency not to choose Barcelona for its new site was, precisely, the doubts about El Prat.
He also stressed the need for more international flights and warned that the environmental compensations in the deal must be positive for Catalonia, and thus the public administrations must draw up a very solid programme in order to negotiate with the EU. Furthermore, he expressed his confidence that, if the plan is good, Europe would not veto it and negotiation would be possible without any problems.
During his speech, the president of the Cercle d'Economia business group, Javier Faus, defended that the expansion of Barcelona airport is not detrimental to either Girona or Reus, and insisted on focusing efforts on El Prat, asserting that a third runway cannot be that of Girona Airport, given that it is 100 kilometres from the other two.
Josep Mateu, president of the automobile association RACC, and Antoni Cañete, leader of the PIMEC grouping of small businesses, also spoke at the event, agreeing that El Prat is strategic for Catalonia's ability to continue competing with other major European cities and regions, and that this enlargement must not be held back by the lack of political agreement.
Closing speaker was Marco Sensavini, CEO of the airline Vueling, who assured that his company will continue to invest in Barcelona, where it already operates flights to more than 120 destinations. At the same time, he added that better solutions must be sought for Barcelona and to think about future generations.
In concluding, he recalled that in 2019, just before the pandemic, Barcelona-El Prat airport went very close to reaching its absolute limit of capacity, when it served 53 million passengers in a year, suggesting that when the pre-pandemic normality returns, that situation is likely to re-occur.