A decade after the inauguration of what was popularly baptized as Castellón’s aircraft-free airport, the landscape of the runway and platforms of the facility has undergone a radical change. The air transport crisis due to the coronavirus pandemic turned the Castellón facility into a large aircraft parking lot, with more than 50 aircraft simultaneously parked on its asphalt .
“In 2020 we were the fourth airport for aircraft parked in Spain, behind Barajas, Ciudad Real and Teruel”, points out Blanca Marín, general director of Aerocas, the public firm of the Generalitat Valenciana that manages it.
A reality that would not have been possible without the turn that the aerodrome undertook three years ago to try to attract companies linked to the aeronautical industry and services and that has allowed that after the recovery of the flights its facilities still continue to host dozens of warehouses for maintenance operations or for their dismantling.
The landing of two companies specialized in the airline industry, Brok-Air, dedicated to aircraft maintenance services, and the British eCube, which carries out dismantling and recovery of parts, has been decisive in this new takeoff.
The explosion of the pandemic was a serious setback for Aerocas’s growth plans in commercial aviation and passenger traffic, after having reached agreements to promote various routes through aid. Given the stoppage of this business, “we opted to accelerate the diversification process by enhancing the entire portfolio of services for the airline sector,” explains Blanca Marín.
The facilities located between the municipalities of Vilanova d’Alcolea and Benlloc made an effort to optimize the spaces to accommodate the planes that needed a place to park, but also the demanding approved maintenance services required in the sector. “The cost of having a parked plane for a month is between 800,000 euros and 1 million euros,” says Marín, to highlight the importance of this business.
To respond, the lack of commercial flights was used to promote the development of new investments, which have added more than 6 million euros in the last year. Thus, eCube expanded the aircraft parking area by 20,000 square meters at the beginning of the year. For its part, Brok-Air has built a new 2,500-square-meter hangar to expand its maintenance center. And Aerocas itself has built a new 30,000 square meter platform for other industries related to aeronautics to be located there.
But the plans of the Generalitat Valenciana for the Castellón aerodrome with industrial diversification go much further. The jewel in the crown is the development of a Complementary Activities Zone (ZAC), which plans to allocate 2.5 million square meters very close to the track to develop an industrial center linked to the sector.
“It is currently in the urban processing phase and the objective is to tender the urbanization project next year,” explains the general director of Aerocas. At the same time, the facility is working to be able to launch the logistics activity related to the loading of air cargo next year. “This summer we have already obtained the certificate as an accredited cargo agent from Aesa, to apply the controls and security for cargo activity” adds Marín, who points out that now one of their priorities is to promote the arrival of cargo operators to develop this business. An activity for which they seek synergies with other investments underway in the area, such as the new Amazon logistics platform in Onda.
Training and labor
One of the basic keys that Aerocas wants to offer to attract companies while diversifying the activity on the premises is training. “Three years ago we started hosting a flight school, Panamedia, and other training companies. It positioned us as one of the airports with the most operations in 2020, and among the only two that increased operations due to the activity of these flight schools”, Marin points out.
This commitment will grow with the start of Vocational Training courses linked to the aeronautical sector. This course will start a first cycle of maintenance FP in the air sector, but the intention is to go much further. “We want to reinforce it with more higher VET cycles linked to the industrial sector and we plan to implement at least five intermediate and higher degree cycles that we hope will add about 300 students per year when they are launched.”
Despite this diversification strategy, which has been reinforced by Covid, Aerocas is clear that its future continues to go through commercial traffic to meet one of the objectives for which the controversial airport was created: to serve as a gateway to tourism to the province of Castellón, the only one in the Mediterranean that did not have an aerodrome. “We are committed to a mixed model of commercial and industrial aviation,” asserts Marín, who recognizes that the operating account of the public company is in deficit and is realistic by not considering a deadline to get out of the red.
“The commercial break-even point is around 800,000 passengers -in 2019 it received just over 125,000-. The operating income will come mainly from passengers, but both industrial and logistics activity should allow us to shorten the deadlines to achieve this,” he adds.
More income, but far from reversing its deficit
Castellón airport has become a headache for the Valencian governments for two decade. His project was a personal initiative of the leader of the PP in that province Carlos Fabra. Faced with the refusal of Aena and Fomento to develop it due to its proximity to Manises, the Generalitat of the PP became its promoter, through a concession formula by which it ceded the exploitation in exchange for the construction. The headwinds changed and in the midst of the economic crisis the concessionaire and the Generalitat went to court. Finally, the Autonomous Administration paid the cost of the works, more than 150 million not including the access roads.
The Government of Alberto Fabra entrusted a second management concession to the Canadian group SNC Lavalin-Edeis, which involved paying it 24 million. With the socialist government of Ximo Puig, both parties rescinded the agreement. Although in 2020 Aerocas multiplied its income by 7 to 0.8 million euros, its annual losses are still much higher, with 5.9 million.