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View from the cockpit

Release date:
May 2023
View from the cockpit Daniel Albalate
Daniel Albalate discusses his transition from academic professor to president of Aeroports de Catalunya, the exceptional view when landing at Andorra – La seu d’Urgell Airport and how the airport operator is working to develop green hydrogen projects.


Can you give me a brief background about yourself and what led to you joining Aeroports de Catalunya earlier this year?


I am primarily an academic and previously worked as a university professor with extensive experience in transport economics, research and teaching. However, having actively participated in debates on Spanish and Catalan transport infrastructure policies, the opportunity arose to transition from a research and theoretical field into a public management role as President of Aeroports de Catalunya. I strongly believe that if you are invited to practice what you preach, it is essential to not refuse the opportunity, so in February this year I joined the Catalan airports operator.


Aeroports de Catalunya currently manages two airports: Lleida Alguaire Airport (ILD/ LEDA) and Andorra La Seu d’Urgell (LEU/ LESU). Can you tell us how the two airports differ in terms of the type of traffic, and aircraft movements?


The two publicly owned airports have very different roles. Lleida is mainly an industrial, technological and pilot training hub, although it does offer commercial passenger services (primarily to the Balearic islands). There are also several flight training academies at Lleida. Andorra-La Seu is a mountain airport and serves as the main gateway to Andorra and the Catalan Pyrenees, offering an attractive option for private aviation and currently operating a regular service to Madrid. Additionally, we also manage an aerodrome in la Cerdanya, quite near to Andorra-La Seu.


How do you juggle your day-to-day responsibilities?


Fortunately, we have a fantastic, highly professional and versatile team at our airports to oversee day-to-day operations. Each airport is managed by an Airport Director, which allows me to focus on more strategic issues and the management of central services in Barcelona. As an operator, our role extends beyond airport management to include the promotion of air transportation in Catalonia, including airports managed by other operators and including Barcelona, Girona and Reus. We are also increasingly involved in the management of a 24-hour heliport network, which is essential in facilitating emergency helicopter services catering for firefighters, police, doctors and search and rescue teams.


Although it is primarily used as a storage and MRO hub, Lleida Alguaire is well known for the striking design of its terminal and control tower. What was the inspiration behind the design of this facility?


The design of the terminal building was inspired by the natural surroundings of the airport, particularly the mountainous landscape of the Pyrenees. The architecture sought to create a building that would blend in with the surrounding landscape and reflect the region’s cultural heritage. It aims to create a harmonious relationship between the airport and its natural surroundings.


Andorra – La seu d’Urgell Airport serves as a gateway to Andorra and has recently undergone some work including a runway upgrade and new lighting. What, if anything, do business and general aviation pilots need to be aware of when landing at this airport?


Pilots landing here are in for a treat. It is an exceptional airport in a stunning location in the middle of the mountains and it typically enjoys better weather conditions than other mountain airports. It certainly offers a runway with a view.


Why is Andorra – La Seu d’Urgell such a convenient hub for private aviation customers?


It offers easy access to Andorra, which is only 30 minutes away and which is home to a plethora of high-end shops. It also serves as a gateway to some of the best winter sports resorts in Europe, including Grandvalira and Vallnord. Meanwhile La Seu d’Urgell itself is home to the only Romanesque Cathedral in Catalonia, as well as various museums, markets and plenty of restaurants.


Private aviation customers value the efficiency of landing close to Andorra and the ability to benefit from a flexible, efficient service which is key when they have tight time schedules to stick to. For those travelling from Andorra, it offers a gateway to the rest of the world.


Both airports are engaged with the Airport Carbon Accreditation programme having reached Level 2. What steps you have taken at the airport to achieve this accreditation and what the plans are going forward in terms of sustainable growth?


We are now working towards achieving the six levels of certification by the Airport Carbon Accreditation.


Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell Airport has identified different carbon reduction initiatives with the aim of achieving the carbon reduction target outlined in the Level 2 of the Airport Carbon Accreditation, such as purchasing green electricity and the replacement of the current lighting with LED lights.


In Lleida – Alguaire Airport we are working to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions at all levels through various measures including: replacing all auxiliary machinery with equipment powered by renewable energy sources; expanding existing photovoltaic plants; exploring opportunities with green hydrogen and sustainable energy solutions to attract innovative aviation projects willing to test in our facilities. In relation to the airport charges, we are drafting a new framework accounting for the GHG generation of the different operations.


How important is your relationship with Air bp and how is the fuel supplier supporting you in your lower carbon journey?


Together with Air bp, we are working to become an airport leader in the provision of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Stay tuned, as we hope to announce exciting news in this space soon. We trust bp as an innovative partner.


What’s in the pipeline for both airports in your portfolio going forward?


At Lleida airport, we aim to consolidate the transition of the airport towards an industrial hub with a focus on maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) activities. Beyond that, we are also collaborating with entrepreneurial and emerging companies to explore new and innovative technologies. This includes working with companies developing engines for rockets as we look to make our mark in the space exploration industry. Urban air mobility – primarily with drone testing – is another area we’re exploring and we remain committed to investigating opportunities for renewable energy sources, such as green hydrogen and SAF and providing a testbed for other companies to trial their technologies in a live airport environment.


In Andorra, our main objectives are simple. We aim to promote new scheduled flights and attract companies interested in leasing the only two remaining spaces for hangars that we currently have available.


What excites you about your new role with Aeroports de Catalunya and what is your vision for the airport operator?


I am excited about the opportunities that air transportation and airports can create, and how they can contribute to the welfare of our citizens and the competitiveness of our firms. I never forget that everything we plan or do must contribute to the region served by our airports, creating opportunities that would not exist without our efforts. In addition, it is essential to be aware of the challenges we face, such as climate change and therefore the need to ensure our infrastructure is at operating as efficiently as possible. For example, Lleida-Alguaire was originally conceived as a commercial airport in 2008 but failed. The reorientation of this airport as an industrial, technological and training hub is an exciting transition and will ensure the airport is an incubator of creativity and applied research across the aviation sector. Not only will this add significant value to our existing MRO and training services, it will also make a great socioeconomic contribution to the region it serves.


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