Thomas Melgar has been for almost two years Director of the airport Son Sant Joan. In view of the corona pandemic that broke out just a few months after taking office, the Mallorcan did not have much room for maneuver; in the meantime, Palma’s airport was almost completely shut down.
Were you glad that during the pandemic, when there were sometimes only a handful of flights a day, you were not in control of a private company, but that Aena is 51 percent owned by the Spanish state?
We are primarily a state company, but we are a service company. We also had to see how we could make ends meet. We had to tweak a lot of the screws and cut costs. Luckily, there was no need for short-time work at Aena because it is a healthy company. But of course many suppliers at the airport applied for an ERTE.
There was an unexpectedly high number of passengers this summer. Will Spanish passengers save the annual statistics?
Yes, the demand from your own country worked very well, as was the case in pandemic times in many countries. Compared to 2019, we have reached over 85 percent of the demand from the Spanish. The German market has not recovered quite as strongly. Summer seemed to have started well at first, but when travel warnings came back, demand abruptly subsided. At no point was the German market below 50 percent compared to 2019. The British market was more difficult. We didn’t even get 40 percent there.
There are very different forecasts for the autumn of tourism on Mallorca. What does yours look like?
Since the pandemic began, it has been very difficult to make predictions. The situation is pretty crazy, you don’t know what to expect. September is going really well, for example we had more German passengers last week than in the best week in August. But we lack any experience to know what will happen in the coming months. We just hope that we are slowly entering some sort of economic recovery where we are slowly approaching pre-pandemic numbers.
They expect that the pre-Corona level of passengers and traffic will be reached by 2026 at the latest. But is that desirable in times of climate change?
As I said, we are a company that offers a service. We are not to blame for the demand. The island’s politicians have to determine how much tourism Mallorca can handle. I have not yet met anyone who has come to Mallorca to visit the airport. People come because they want to see the island. Apart from that, we feel obliged to the environment and optimize where we have direct influence.
At the same time, you also want to modernize the airport. On Sunday (September 19th) around 500 people demonstrated in Palma against the alleged expansion plans. What do you answer them?
We have had the same capacity of possible flight movements per hour for over 20 years (66 take-offs and landings, editor’s note) and we will not change anything about that. It’s about a renewal, selective beautification work. We will build more passenger fingers, for example, so that more aircraft can then be parked directly at the terminal. That was a request from the passengers, but it does not lead to an increase in capacity. One advantage here is that the aircraft can be connected directly to the airport’s power supply. There is currently no need to increase the maximum number of passengers from Son Sant Joan.
Pandemic in Mallorca this summer is synonymous with a boom in private aircraft. Will it stop?
Mallorca has always been an attractive destination for private planes. The conditions of the pandemic have further increased this attractiveness. Many holidaymakers who would otherwise have flown to more distant destinations opted for Mallorca. But I assume that we had an extraordinary situation here. This growth is unlikely to continue in the coming years.
Are these flights even interesting for the airport? They take up slots and space, but bring in significantly less money than large passenger planes.
This is not about what we would like to have. We are obliged to treat everyone equally. We try to organize private air traffic and other air traffic as well as possible. If I could choose, I would of course prefer fully occupied Airbus planes. But you shouldn’t forget that the people who arrive in private planes leave a lot of money on Mallorca and are an important clientele.
A recurring point of criticism is the queues at the airport health check, where hundreds of people are waiting closely. Couldn’t this bottleneck be organized differently?
We try to ensure that everything runs as quickly and smoothly as possible there, but it is not possible without waiting. In general, there were no long queues, these were very selective events, and people never had to wait more than 15 to 20 minutes. The photos that are taken there always look much more spectacular than they really are. And crowds often arose because groups of travelers had not got their documents out in time and then had to catch them up at the control.
Eurowings recently switched to car handling, so it organizes the handling itself. Isn’t that a danger to jobs at the airport?
I don’t see any immediate danger because Eurowings has signed a large number of the employees of the handling companies. But from our point of view it is not good if more and more companies get involved in handling. Aena already offers the airlines three handling companies.