The government has this week admitted that Lisbon could be welcoming its second airport in 2019. Minister of Planning and Infrastructure Pedro Marques explained that environmental impact studies at the Montijo Air Force base will be conducted in 2017 to ascertain the viability of the location to welcome commercial passenger flights. The news was followed by calls from the Algarve Hotel Association for the building of a second “and truly international airport” in the region.
The growing popularity of Lisbon as a tourist destination, coupled with the capital’s attraction as a gateway into Europe for flights from North and South America and Africa, has seen the Humberto Delgado International Airport fast approach saturation point.
Minister Pedro Marques, in an interview with business daily Negócios and radio Antena 1, admitted as much and explained that Lisbon urgently needs to increase its capacity.
With the airport at Portela encircled by buildings and motorways, Minister Marques said the solution is to build a new unit at Montijo just south of the Tagus River, along with an additional runway.
“This could happen in 2019”, the Minister predicted, adding: “I believe that by 2019 we will be seeing construction work on the ground.”
The government has also said that should Montijo become Lisbon’s second airport, it would require inter-state negotiations with the Air Force which currently uses the base.
The Minister however admitted that a final and definitive decision is only likely at the end of next year. This should happen only once environmental impact studies have been completed, along with the results obtained from more in-depth research into the migratory patterns of birds in the area.
“There’s no going back on the need for Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport to increase its capacity. That is evident, not just in terms of record passenger numbers, but also the congestion caused on the ground and with traffic control at the current airport”, said the Minister.
He further expressed his regret that had a political decision been made sooner, the problems being faced now would have been a long way to being solved.
These views were echoed earlier this year by Lisbon Town Hall.
Councillor Manuel Salgado argued that “the airport at Portela is nearing its capacity and we are looking at Portela+1, which in this case will see it located in Montijo.”
He also added that a riverboat link between the Portuguese capital and Montijo is also currently on the drawing board, which will boost transport connections to Lisbon, which are currently restricted to the Vasco da Gama bridge.
Montijo Town Hall also confirmed the move, with the city’s mayor saying they were contacted by the national airport operator with regards to housing a commercial airport.
Montijo Mayor Nuno Canta said that they readily accepted the possibility of transforming part of a military base into an airport, which would accommodate the rising number of low-cost flights heading into Lisbon.
With a second Lisbon airport firmly back on the drawing board, it came as a surprise that the Algarve Hotel association AHETA has called for the construction of a second airport in that region.
In comments to newspaper Público, Elidérico Viegas argued that 15 to 20 years usually pass between a decision on building a new airport and its actual completion.
“The Algarve should consider building a truly international airport in the central part of the region”, said the AHETA chief, as current renovation work costing 33 million euros at Faro Airport nears completion.
He added that the current airport cannot expand any further due to its location in the protected Ria Formosa area.
Elidérico Viegas reasoned that a new airport could be built between Loulé and Silves, which he said was the initial location originally proposed for the Algarve airport more than half a century ago.
The AHETA leader said that while Beja Airport could be considered a complementary venue, “it is not an alternative as it is more than 100 kilometres away.”
The airport at Beja in the Alentejo has remained largely void of air traffic, despite boasting an infrastructure that can accommodate the largest commercial jet liners currently in our skies.
After almost six years since its inauguration, airport operator ANA has repeatedly admitted that while commercial flights have so far evaded the infrastructure, a new direction investing in the parking and maintenance of aircraft has started to show results.
In the years following its inauguration in 2011, a spate of charter flights were announced but failed to materialise into long-term operations.
Regular trips between Beja and Paris announced for the summer of 2014 were cancelled after just eight flights, while the airport’s much-publicised inaugural flight, between the Alentejo city and Cape Verde’s Ilha do Fogo, was a one-off.
Just a few thousand passengers have passed through the infrastructure’s doors since it opened five years ago following a €33 million conversion from military airbase to commercial airport.
ANA said that while the airport “meets all conditions to qualify as a fundamental infrastructure for the development of the whole Alentejo region”, the variables that that depends upon, such as the region’s economic development, are beyond the company’s control.
“So far, and despite several products that generate demand, the Alentejo region does not yet have a market big enough to enable the existence of tourist and cargo flows for which air transport would be a key element”, the national airport management company reflected.
Beja airport is located about 90 minutes from Faro and an hour and three quarters from Lisbon, which has proven to be too far to act as a supporting airport, especially for the congested skies above the Portuguese capital.