(CNN) — Up for auction: $1.5 billion Spanish airport, little used. Starting price? $150 million.
If that sounds improbable, you haven’t been keeping up with the fallout from Spain’s burst property bubble.
The fire sale of the country’s first private international airport, costing a reported $1.5 billion to build, has become a powerful symbol of the economic downtown triggered by that implosion.
With a 4,400-meter-long runway, Europe’s longest, on which the world’s largest airliner, the Airbus 380, can land, Ciudad Real International Airport sounds as if it has quite a lot going for it.
Accepting bids from this week until December 27, the five-year-old facility 200 kilometers south of Madrid also has a passenger capacity of 10 million people a year and, something rare for an airport, star quality.
Last year, the Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar shot part of his last film, the high-flying romp “I’m So Excited!”, at the so-called “ghost airport,” the Australian reports.
‘Don’t land here!’
Plus points aside, what the airport equivalent of real estate agents might try to gloss over are the huge yellow crosses painted all over the runway.
Like hoardings on an abandoned building to keep squatters out, they’re designed to stop pilots landing at the airport by accident, where they could only recently have found themselves surrounded by a gaggle of Almodovar’s actors playing screamingly camp air crew.
Which would have been confusing.
Another downside is that location, which sounds as though it might have been breezily dismissed amid the giddy excitement of the aforementioned 10-year development boom.
No one really goes to Ciudad Real, at least not on vacation.
Lonely Planet calls it “an unspectacular Spanish working town.”
The sparsely populated surrounding region of Castile-La Mancha is where the Spanish literary character Don Quixote famously “tilted at windmills.”
Indeed, the airport was first called Aeropuerto Don Quijote.
Cervantes’ hero also gave rise to the word “quixotic,” meaning extravagant, unrealistic and impractical.
The airport was meant to serve the Spanish capital and the Andalusian coast by high speed rail, but it appears to have been planned in the same vein as other far-flung but optimistically named airports, such as Paris Beauvais Tillé (85 kilometers from the French capital).
Low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Air Berlin flew in to Ciudad Real International, but the airport opened in the same year, 2008, as the bursting of the Spanish property bubble tipped the country’s economy into double-dip recession.
By 2012, the airport’s custom had dwindled to a few private arrivals, including Prince Harry reportedly flying in for a boar hunt.
Later that same year, its operators having filed for bankruptcy, the airport closed for business.
Only to open up, now, for bids.
Saudi princes are among possible buyers that spring to mind, although they probably get enough sun.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos could snap it up: he might save on freight.
Or maybe Ryanair should actually buy its own airport.
They say every cloud has a silver lining. For now, Ciudad Real International is waiting for one to appear.
By Simon Busch
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