Barcelona Airports

Barcelona’s first airport was opened in 1916 at El Remolar, just to the north of the existing airport. However, it soon became apparent that the site offered little opportunities for expansion so in 1918 the airport was relocated a few hundred metres south to an area covering parts of the municipalities of El Prat de Llobregat, Viladecans, and Sant Boi. It is usually known as Barcelona, El Prat Airport. Visitors to the airport will have noticed its closeness to the sea. This was good because in the early days of flying, landing on hard ground could be a bit hazardous so landing on the sea seemed a safer option and required less infrastructure! In the early days of the airport, it was home to the seaplanes of the Spanish Military, it was also the base for their Zeppelin fleet. Locating the airport from the air was assisted by the word "PRAT" painted in large letters in the middle of the field.

The first plane to use the field was a flight from Toulouse to Casablanca, stopping en route to refuel. It was not until 1927 that the first commercial flight took off. It was also Iberia’s first flight and was, unsurprisingly, to Madrid.

Until 1948 aircraft using the airport had to manage without a proper runway, but as the planes became heavier this was a state of affairs that could not be allowed to continue and what is now known as runway 07L-25R was constructed. It was finished just in time for a Pan-American World Airlines Lockheed Constellation to land and then take off for New York on the first transatlantic flight. It was not until 1970 that this became a regular service, with an intermediate stop in Lisbon. In November of that year, the air shuttle between Barcelona and Madrid was inaugurated. A dedicated terminal was opened for it and until 2008 it was the world’s busiest route. At its peak in 2007, it had 971 flights per week. (As of the last week in October 2019 it is down to 203 each way.)

During the late 70s and into the 80s passenger numbers stalled at about 5 million per year, but then there came a massive boost in the form of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Two new terminals were added along with a new control tower (which had to be replaced again in 2006!). Jet bridges (aka airbridges) were installed for the first time so passengers no longer needed to go out in the rain to board their flight!

By the late 90s the general economic downturn seriously affected El Prat’s fortunes and it was the moving of some charter operations from Girona and Reus that enabled it to weather the storm.

airport barcelona

By 2009 things had taken a turn for the better and a new terminal was opened. It became Terminal 1 and the old terminals A, B and C became Terminal 2A, B and C. February 1st, 2014 saw Emirates operate the first service into Spain using an Airbus A380-300 aircraft on a daily (now twice daily) service to Dubai. When Terminal 1 first opened most of the traffic was handled there, leaving Terminal 2 standing idle. It was decided to reduce landing charges to encourage low-cost airlines to use the airport. This was highly successful, but there is still spare capacity in the Terminal. Despite the spare capacity it is planned to build a third terminal!

There is a long-running dispute between the Catalan and National Governments over the management of the airport. Currently, it is managed by AENA, a national company. Profits generated by El Prat are therefore used to assist projects at other airports. The Catalan Government would like to see more (or all) of those profits retained within Catalonia.

El Prat is the second-largest and second busiest in Spain and the seventh busiest in Europe. Despite all of that it handles very little traffic beyond Europe. The busiest route is to Gatwick; in a list of the 25 busiest routes the only two outside of Europe are Dubai (16th) and Tel Aviv (24th). Over the course of the year 90 airlines use El Prat and during the last week in October there are 3,381 scheduled departures to 201 different airports in 62 countries.

Vueling carries by far the greatest number of passengers through El Prat, with over 17 million in 2018. (Out of a total of 50million.) Ryanair is in second place with just under 7 million. In fact, Vueling carried more than the next 6 airlines together.

Since 27th February the airport’s full name has been Barcelona - El Prat Josep Tarradellas Airport after a former President of the Generalitat of Catalonia.

barcelona airportA little about the naming (or numbering) of the runways. Barcelona has 3 runways, one of these is called 02/20. First add a 0 to the end of each number giving 020/200. This gives the compass direction the runway is pointing as the plane approaches it. So a plane arriving at El Prat from over the Med will head towards a point that is 20 degrees from north (in a clockwise direction). A plane coming from the north will need to head for compass point 200 degrees from north. The other two runways are parallel to each other and have the same numbers 07/25 (70deg/25Odeg). To differentiate them they are designated left and right as they are approached so they become 07L/25R and 07R/25L. Obviously left and right are the other way around when approached from the opposite direction! In giving instructions to pilots the numbers are given, for example, as two five rather than twenty-five.

Barcelona is a mecca for plane spotters.
Beneath the approach path to runway 25L is a purpose built viewing area with a number of concrete "chaise loungues" to enable spotters to lay back and watch planes take off or land. There is also a raised observation platform adjacent to the B203 road, which runs along the southern edge of the airport.