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Córdoba Airport is example of Spain’s wasteful spending, says EU

Court of Auditors criticizes use of European funds to help expand eight installations

A helicopter takes off from Córdoba Airport.
A helicopter takes off from Córdoba Airport.

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has held up Córdoba Airport as an example of exactly how EU air infrastructure funds should not be spent.

According to the body responsible for auditing the EU’s public funds and improving its financial management, the Andalusian installation – which was expanded in 2008 at a cost of €85 million, €13 million of which came from European coffers – is a “model” of how investment decisions should not be taken.

With passenger numbers having plummeted 70 percent between 2007 and 2013 and airlines reluctant to use its facilities, the airport currently only handles private and government air traffic.

Spain has been one of the states that has most wasted European funds on airports”

European Court of Auditors representatives

The study, which was released on Tuesday, highlighted the proximity of Córdoba Airport to its competitors – Seville Airport is just 40 minutes away and Madrid is an hour and 45 minutes away by AVE high speed train – and the fact that 99 percent of the 4.2 million people who live within its sphere of influence (which as well as Córdoba includes a good part of Seville, Málaga, Granada, Jaén, Ciudad Real and Badajoz provinces) have another airport available to them within a two-hour drive – the distance used to gauge proximity.

Despite the traffic attracted by the nearby Málaga and Seville airports – the fifth and 11th busiest in Spain, respectively – “the Spanish government decided in 2008 to expand the runway, without any needs analysis or study of potential growth, cost‑benefit analysis or justification for the sudden expected increase in passenger traffic,” the report said.

“In short: the expansion made no sense, there was no technical reason for it,” a high-ranking ECA official told EL PAÍS.

The report also criticized the lack of profitability of seven other Spanish airports that financed their expansion using European funds: Badajoz, Burgos, Fuerteventura, La Palma, Madrid-Barajas, Murcia and Vigo. Only three of these – Madrid, Fuerteventura and Murcia – were likely to achieve financial equilibrium within the next few years and in the majority of cases, the ECA considers it proven that the expansion work was unnecessary.

“It was not our intention to do a country-by-country analysis, but it is true that Spain has been one of the states that, in the light of the data, has most wasted European funds on airports,” the auditors pointed out in a meeting with reporters before the presentation of the report.

Between 2000 and 2013 Spain received just under €700 million, a quarter of the entire amount destined for European airport infrastructure projects.

The EC has admitted that “in some cases” these investments do not represent “effective use” of European money and said it shares the ECA’s concern about the financial sustainability of the airports analyzed.