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The Spanish government has suspended the announced expansion of Barcelona's El Prat airport. In a press conference this Wednesday, the Spanish minister of transport Raquel Sánchez stated that the investment of 1.7 billion euros envisaged for the Barcelona airport has been suspended due to the Catalan government's refusal to support the project presented by the public airport operator AENA, as has confirmed with sources in the Catalan government.

The withdraw of the plan to invest in the expansion of El Prat comes a month after the Catalan vice president, Jordi Puigneró, announced on August 2nd that agreement had been reached on expanding the infrastructure, but a point of discord remained in the details of how it would be possible to carry out the expansion, centred on the lengthening of the third runway, without invading the protected natural area of ​​the Llobregat delta. On this point, neither the Catalan government nor Unidas Podemos, partner in the Spanish government, were in favour.

In her appearance, Raquel Sánchez accused the Catalan government of breaking the agreement reached on August 2nd and changing its positions. She thus argued that the Spanish executive "will not impose" any expansion in Catalonia if there is no agreement or consensus. However, the transport minister gave an assurance that the Spanish executive will continue to offer an outstretched hand on the expansion of the El Prat airport and on the master plans for the other main Catalan airports, those of Reus and Girona.

What was AENA's plan for the El Prat expansion?

The plan of Spanish public airport operator AENA for the expansion of the airport includes the lengthening of the third runway, and will mean invading the natural space and wetlands area of the La Ricarda lagoon and the Llobregat river delta. This is what is specified in AENA's Airport Planning and Regulation Document (DORA) 2022-2026 and it was precisely this issue - La Ricarda - which is a red line for the Catalan government.

Specifically, the document specifies that "the expansion of the airfield, and specifically runway 07R/25L and its associated taxiways to the east, maintaining the threshold for landings in the current location, would affect areas of the Natura 2000 network, so it is also necessary to include actions corresponding to compensatory measures and the lands that would have to be acquired for this purpose, in the investments 2022-2026".

The text also sets out the company’s strategic planning and investments for the years 2022-2026. In fact, the two plans on the table are the expansion and remodeling of the main terminal, Terminal 1, and a new satellite terminal, in addition to the expansion of the third runway.

Main photograph: Archive photograph of Terminal 2 at El Prat airport - AENA