Gridlock at Lisbon airport
World Tourism Day saw a television debate set up to discuss tourism descend into a dismal slanging match about the feasibility of bringing Lisbon international airport into the 21st century.
Despite all the ‘fine plans’ to expand over the river to Montijo, critics fear the country is wasting time with what one source called ‘band-aid’ solutions that will simply perpetuate an ongoing crisis.
The truth is that Lisbon International Airport can’t cope. Tourism has grown at such a rate that in August this year six out of every 10 planes left late.
Airline statistics company OAG has classified the (relatively newly named) Humberto Delgado complex as sixth worst on a global punctuality ranking for the period between June last year and May this year, while TAP claims it is being stunted due to all the problems.
Delays which used to cause the airline €50 million in compensation payments to passengers are now costing it upwards of €100 million – and no-one can see any long-term, long-lasting solutions in sight.
Expansion over the river to Montijo – scheduled for 2022 and expected to cost a billion euros – has been criticised for only pushing the logistical problems forwards by another 10 years.
The bottom line is that Portugal needs new airports, and that implies ‘investment’ that this government (and those before it) hasn’t yet been racing forwards to provide.
Indeed, even the brave new plans for Montijo are ‘conditioned’.
Says Observador, there are a number of points that need clarification before building work can start, not least clamouring environmental arguments for what’s called a “strategic impact study”.
If the government is forced to embark on a strategic impact study – and that is where opponents are going – the 2022 deadline would be pushed further into the future, leaving Lisbon heaving and losing business in the process.
“Every one of us here today is losing out to other countries”, TAP CEO Antonoaldo Neves told the summit attended by planning and infrastructure minister Pedro Marques and various sector top brass (Thierry Ligonnière of ANA airports authority, Jorge Ponce of Air Navigation Portugal, Luís Silva Ribeiro of civil aviation authority ANAC and Duarte Silva, of the Lisbon Airport Expansion Project).
“TAP will not be able to grow any more by next year,” he added, claiming that tourism, as a result, “is already suffering”.
The question hanging ominously in the air was, can Lisbon cope until Montijo is up and ready? The ‘answer’ came in what one media source described as “a series of short-term solutions” listed by Thierry Ligonnière.
One of these involves the closure of a little used runway to provide more ‘airplane parking’, which Ligonnière said was “one of the main problems” at the overstretched airport.
But as Presstur – the news agency for tourism and flights – stressed, Ligonnière could not be tied to any kind of schedule.
Regarding dates for the alterations to runways in Lisbon, or the expansion of taxiways (for planes), he simply answered “as soon as possible”.
And what is possible and what’s needed seem to be poles apart.
TAP and SATA win aviation’s “Rotten Tomatoes” ranking
Portugal’s flagship airline TAP and the Azores own SATA Air Azores have been included in this year’s Top 10 ranking for lack of punctuality.
OAG’s statistics judged 164 airlines from all over the world, and saw TAP in what Antonoaldo Neves agreed its “shameful” 159th slot, alongside SATA which did only slightly better by being placed at position 158.
SATA International, however, fared much better, and escaped the “Rotten Tomatoes”-type classification. It came 93rd out of 164 airlines, with 69.9% of flights coming in and going out on time.
Surprisingly, the hands-down global winner for punctuality was Russia’s Aeroflot.
Which airlines will want to operate out of Montijo?
This is a question that is also left ‘hanging in the air’. Observador wrote after the summit that Thierry Ligonnière has “assured” MPs that ANA has received “manifestations of interest” from a number of airline companies wishing to be the first to operate out of Montijo. “But he didn’t say which ones,” says the news site.
Certainly, two of the best-known low-cost companies – easyJet and Ryanair – are “less than enthusiastic” about changing venues.
EasyJet’s CEO José Lopes has said his company’s objective “is to continue to grow in Lisbon” – bearing in mind Montijo’s time-frame isn’t set in any kind of reliable framework – while Ryanair’s director-general Michael O’Leary has said Montijo would only ever be seen as an overspill solution, given that his company’s hub will remain in the capital (unless of course, union demands over pay and conditions force Ryanair to flee altogether, as was suggested to the company last week by none other than Thierry Ligonnière).
By NATASHA DONN email@example.com