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Back to El aeropuerto sin cafetería

Alejandro Navas, Professor of Sociology, University of Navarra, Spain

The airport without cafeteria

Mon, 13 Jun 2011 08:38:37 +0000 Published in El Norte de Castilla

It is the León airport. According to the local press, nobody wants that cafeteria: "AENA declares the tender to award the operation of the catering and store services of the new terminal, closed for almost four months".

President Rodríguez Zapatero inaugurated the new terminal in October 2010. As happens in this subject of events, at that time it was all celebration and optimism. But still today, air traffic is conspicuous by its absence, like the skies with clouds and no planes. And, logically, if there are no flights or passengers, there will be no one to buy press and typical souvenirs or to leave their wallet to have a coffee.

Zapatero announces his return to León when he leaves the Moncloa. In his day, he declared to his wife, moved, that there were hundreds of thousands of people in Spain qualified to hold the presidency of the Government. Therefore, he can leave without any conscience position . And since he is still a young man, he could try to get to work in León; for example, managing the airport cafeteria . After all, he is the manager of this terminal expansion. In Spain, it is still normal that some public works are built according to cacique interests, and not because there is a real need. Of course, we are still above countries like Argentina or Zaire. I am thinking of the 2,400 m of runway, suitable for jets, that President Menem ordered to be built in his town, Anillaco (190 inhabitants). President Mobutu did something similar in Zaire, in the middle of the jungle. When AENA expands the terminal in Leon to honor the president, or the one in Malaga so that the Minister of Public Works can look good (and win votes) in front of her countrymen, technical arguments can always be invoked. Menem and Mobutu had no need to explain themselves to anyone.

In Spain we have forty-seven public airports and six private ones. A couple of years ago, the Ciudad Real airport was inaugurated -private, but promoted by board of Castilla-La Mancha and the corresponding savings bank-, which has the longest runway in Europe (4,000m) and has no traffic. In Barcelona they have the spectacular T 1. It is a marvel of architecture and of design, but it is doubtful whether such a large investment is really necessary. It seems that the decisive argument for its construction was the -known- comparison with Madrid: if Barajas had its T 4, El Prat could not be less. With this Olympian levity, millions are spent by the thousands and the public deficit we are suffering from is dug up. Very few of these airports are profitable, and so it is not surprising that AENA is in a critical situation status .

In addition to clientelism, another perverse effect of the autonomic logic can be seen in this construction dynamic. Each community wants to be self-sufficient in all aspects, as it would consider it humiliating to have to depend on a neighboring autonomy for everything from university programs of study to organ transplants. In the sixties or eighties it happened in the towns with the swimming pools and sports centers, then with the houses -buildings, rather- of culture. The result is an increase of the expense that is hardly justified, and a deterioration of the quality of the services offered: there is a lack of critical mass to ensure the expertise required for a quality service.

An airport without cafeteria is a problem, no doubt. But what to do when there is a lack of flights? Who is responsible for this insane public works policy? Should a public tender be held at call -more expenses- to find an alternative use for so many kilometers of disused runways? Is this airport thing a bad -let's say- passenger?