Saturday, February 25, 2017

Mallorca's Saturated Skies

It is not just Mallorca's roads, streets and beaches that are saturated with tourists, so are the island's skies, and these are due to be more jammed than ever this summer courtesy of a 20% increase in air capacity. One uses the word "capacity" advisedly, because capacity is already stretched to the limits, and as a result tourism minister Biel Barceló is absolutely furious with Aena.

He isn't the only one who should be. The tipping-point with visitor numbers has been edging ever closer. One fears the edge will be reached this summer. The additional numbers being spoken of verge on the preposterous.

Aena is scheduling a landing or a taking-off every 45 seconds. The hourly capacity is to rise from the current 66 to 80. That gives you the 20% increase (actually 21.2%). The logic of such an increase is that passenger numbers, which were a record 26 million last year, will be well over the 30 million mark this year. There had been talk of one million more passengers for 2017, not of five or six million more.

Barceló's anger stems from the fact that there had been no consultation about this increase. While there will be those who believe the more the merrier when it comes to ever greater tourist numbers, there will be plenty who do not, and Barceló is right to say that a major increase in volume has serious ramifications for roads, the environment, emergency services, waste management, health services. Everything. There again, one might suggest that he would say all this. Politically, he can't afford to be presiding as tourism minister over ever greater numbers, given the "saturation" and sustainability debates and arguments.

It is in fact highly unlikely that the increased numbers will be in the order of five or six million. It serves Barceló, Podemos and GOB well to suggest that this will be the case, but one is talking here about maximum capacity at specific times. Even so, there will be a rise (and perhaps a significant one) while there is also the distinct sense of Aena totally disregarding the island's own capacity in the pursuit of ever greater profit. And when one refers to Mallorca's capacity, where exactly might these greater numbers be staying? Not hotels because they're pretty much booked out as it is in high summer.

The Aena announcement simply adds further fuel to the argument that there should be local co-management (and so therefore greater control) of airports and ports. And there is an important point to make about these. The ports are run by the state. The Balearic Ports Authority, which is the regional division of the State Ports, doesn't generate enormous profit, and much of what profit it does make is ploughed back in the form of investment. Aena, on the other hand, makes colossal money from Palma and the other two Balearic airports - over 1,100 million euros per annum from airport taxes.

There will be even more local anger because of the coincidental announcement of Aena's figures for last year. Its profit increased by almost 40%. The consolidated net profit of more than 1,100 million euros (a figure that is a coincidence in itself given the revenue generated from the Balearics) equates to some 30% of consolidated revenue - a staggering return.

To return to the increase in hourly capacity, a point also needs to be made about safety. Air-traffic controllers in Palma were last summer saying that at peak times (typically weekends in high summer), they were having to deal with well over 66 planes an hour. They were warning that safety was at risk of being compromised and that their own ability to handle such volume was being stretched to the limit. Aena needs to give some explanations and assurances. Barceló and the government have requested a meeting with Aena's directors. That's likely to be a feisty affair.

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