Welcome to Don Quixote airport: cost €1bn - now it could sell to China for €10,000
It cost €1bn (£694m) to build and was on sale for a knockdown price of €40m, but now looks set to be sold for just €10,000. Ciudad Real airport, one of the most notorious emblems of Spain’s economic crash, has found a buyer.
A Chinese-led consortium has emerged as the only bidder for the deserted site 100 miles south of Madrid, for an apparent bargain price after no one met the much reduced valuation. Its facilities include a runway long enough to land an Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger plane, along with a passenger terminal that could handle 10m travellers per year. It is also in pristine condition because it has barely been used, having opened to international flights in 2010 as the eurozone crisis raged, only to shut two years later.
Appropriately for such a vainglorious project, the La Mancha airport was previously named after the region’s most famous, and deluded, literary export: Don Quixote.
But Tzaneen International, a Chinese company set up in March with just €4,000 in capital, believes it can succeed where others have failed. Its bid – the only offer – succeeded at a . Its initial €10,000 outlay buys all the land and most of the buildings, including the runway and control tower. Tzaneen says it also wants to acquire the terminal building and the car parks and is prepared to invest up to €100m in the project because “there are several Chinese companies that want to make the airport the European point of entry for cargo”.
The airport has become a symbol of the spendthrift boom years during which local political barons who, seeking to emulate the transformative success of Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum, raided savings banks to build cultural centres, roads and high-speed rail links. Two other brand-new passenger airports – Lleida in Catalonia and Castelló near Valencia – remain unused, further evidence of Spain’s . Ciudad Real has a population of just 75,000; many Spaniards would have trouble finding it on a map.
When Ciudad Real airport closed, the administrators said its backers had never carried out an investment analysis and “produced a financial plan that was not based on any studies of the market or of demand that would justify the anticipated traffic”. The airport failed to find a buyer when it was put up for auction at €100m last year. Earlier this year, it was reduced to €80m and finally to €40m. Because the Chinese offer doesn’t come close to 70% of the asking price, rival bidders have 20 days in which to come forward with a better offer.
Tzaneen International said the airport would be revived as a cargo hub for the Chinese market. “The purchase of the airport is the first step towards creating a hub in the Ciudad Real area specialising in the transport, storage and distribution of cargo from various geographical zones, with special attention to the Chinese market, as a bridgehead for manufactured products as well as semi-manufactured goods which could be finished in Castilla La-Mancha,” the company said.
The town and the surrounding region need the investment. Unemployment in the Castilla La-Mancha region stands at 28.5% and at 22% in Ciudad Real. The town of 75,000 people was founded in the 14th century and is of little economic importance. It is about two hours’ drive from Madrid, although a high-speed rail connection has reduced the journey time to 50 minutes, putting it within range of a commute to the capital. However, the high-speed line does not have a station connecting to the airport, an oversight symbolised on the site by an incomplete walkway for rail passengers.
The airport went into administration with debts of €529m and a judge ordered that an auction be held to pay these off. In an outcome typical of Spain’s financial crisis, the biggest creditors are savings banks, who are owed €233m. Locals whose property was compulsorily purchased to allow the construction of the airport are claiming a further €106m. The airport drove the Castilla-La Mancha savings bank, a 68% shareholder in the scheme, to bankruptcy, but not before it had handed out multimillion-euro payoffs to its directors.
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