Ciudad Real – The €1.1bn Airport That Closed Within Three Years

After costing over €1 billion to construct, Ciudad Real International Airport opened in 2009. It closed three years later, having hosted only two low-cost carriers, the flights of one subsidized by the Spanish government. After years of empty facilities falling into disrepair, the airport has reinvented itself as a maintenance and storage center, hosting aircraft from all over the world during the pandemic.

Ciudad Real control tower
The billion-euro Ciudad Real International Airport was only open for passenger services for three years before falling into disarray. Photo: Getty Images

From low traffic low-cost to storage

Opened in 2009 amidst a construction boom, Ciudad Real International Airport (CQM) was initially intended to take some of the traffic from Madrid Barajas, despite being located about 220 kilometers to the south. Its passenger terminal was designed to initially handle two million passengers per year – ten if planned expansions would have been completed.

However, the billion-euro project only stayed open for three years. During that time, it only ever saw the service of two airlines – Ryanair and Spanish low-coster Vueling. Shortly after it shut down, the airport began to fall into disrepair. It was then put up for sale at a price of €89 million.

Meanwhile, no investor wanted to pay the requested amount. Several bids were rejected by the Spanish commercial court, including one for €10,000 submitted by a consortium of British and Asian investors, who wanted to turn it into an entry point for Chinese companies.

In the end, the airport sold for €56.2 million to a company called Ciudad Real International Airport SL. The airfield and its single 4,100-meter long runway were reopened in September 2019. However, there are no scheduled passenger services either from or to the airport. Instead, it has become a maintenance and storage facility.

Ciudad Real – The €1.1bn Airport That Closed Within Three Years
Spanish budget airline Vueling was one of only two airlines to operate out of Ciudad Real. However, its flights were subsidized by the Spanish government. Photo: Getty Images

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Business boom during COVID

Irish company Direct Aero Services has opened a maintenance base at the airport, and Spanish firm Jet Aircraft Services runs a dismantling service. The month of May 2020 saw cargo flights arrive from Guangzhou in China, bringing medical equipment to help fight the pandemic.

While being a ghost airport would be bad for business on other occasions, having lots of free storage space and quiet runways is not necessarily a negative when the world needs places to park its planes. Due to its arid climate – and quite probably favorable economics – the airport became one of the preferred storage facilities for aircraft during the pandemic.

Virgin Star Wars 747
Virgin Atlantic’s ‘The Falcon’ retired to Ciudad Real. Photo: Martin J Gallego via Flickr

Spanish carriers such as Vueling and Iberia sent their jets to Ciudad Real as they parked their fleets. However, the airport has also long-term hosted the liveries of South African, Aer Lingus, Virgin Atlantic, and even far-off visitors such as Hong Kong flag carrier Cathay Pacific.

Ciudad Real has also become the final resting place for some high-profile retirees, such as Virgin Atlantic’s Star Wars-themed Boeing 747 named ‘The Falcon’. Due to its long runway, the airport is capable of receiving both the Queen of the Skies and the Airbus A380.