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Spanish 'ghost airport' goes on the block

By Simon Busch, CNN
December 11, 2013 -- Updated 1854 GMT (0254 HKT)
Ciudad Real International, Spain's so-called "ghost airport," has been put up for auction starting at $150 million. Flights dwindled to an end a year ago. Ciudad Real International, Spain's so-called "ghost airport," has been put up for auction starting at $150 million. Flights dwindled to an end a year ago.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Airport costing $1.5 billion is for sale at $150 million
  • Flights at Spain's so-called "ghost airport" ceased last year
  • Nearest population center is "unspectacular town"
  • Bankruptcy administrators dispute claims of "passenger-less" airport

(CNN) -- Up for auction: Spanish airport costing up to a reported $1.5 billion, little used.

Starting price? $150 million.

If that sounds improbable, you haven't been keeping up with the fallout from Spain's burst property bubble.

The fire sale of the country's first private international airport has become a powerful symbol of the economic downturn triggered by that implosion.

With a 4,400-meter-long runway, Europe's longest, on which the world's largest airliner, the Airbus 380, can land, Ciudad Real International Airport sounds as if it has quite a lot going for it.

Accepting bids from this week until December 27, the five-year-old facility 200 kilometers south of Madrid also has a passenger capacity of 10 million people a year and, something rare for an airport, star quality.

Last year, the Oscar-winning Spanish director Pedro Almodovar shot part of his last film, the high-flying romp "I'm So Excited!", at the so-called "ghost airport," the Australian reports.

Read: DC10 makes last passenger flight

2011: A look inside the 'ghost airport'

'Don't land here!'

Plus points aside, what the airport equivalent of real estate agents might try to gloss over are the huge yellow crosses painted all over the runway.

Like hoardings on an abandoned building to keep squatters out, they're designed to stop pilots landing at the airport by accident, where they could only recently have found themselves surrounded by a gaggle of Almodovar's actors playing screamingly camp air crew.

Which would have been confusing.

Another downside is that location, which sounds as though it might have been breezily dismissed amid the giddy excitement of the aforementioned 10-year development boom.

No one really goes to Ciudad Real, at least not on vacation.

Lonely Planet calls it "an unspectacular Spanish working town."

The sparsely populated surrounding region of Castile-La Mancha is where the Spanish literary character Don Quixote famously "tilted at windmills."

Indeed, the airport was first called Aeropuerto Don Quijote.

Cervantes' hero also gave rise to the word "quixotic," meaning extravagant, unrealistic and impractical.

Hmm.

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'Near Madrid'

The airport was meant to serve the Spanish capital and the Andalusian coast by high speed rail, but it appears to have been planned in the same vein as other far-flung but optimistically named airports, such as Paris Beauvais Tillé (85 kilometers from the French capital).

Low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and Air Berlin flew in to Ciudad Real International, but the airport opened in the same year, 2008, as the bursting of the Spanish property bubble tipped the country's economy into double-dip recession.

By 2012, the airport's custom had dwindled to a few private arrivals, including Prince Harry reportedly flying in for a boar hunt.

Later that same year, its operators having filed for bankruptcy, the airport closed for business.

Only to open up, now, for bids.

In a statement to CNN, however, Francisco Perez, one of the bankruptcy administrators, insisted that widely published reports about the $1.5 billion cost to build the airport were untrue.

The actual construction cost was only about one-third of that, he said, but it was difficult to determine the overall price tag due to a large number of pending court cases by property owners over expropriation costs for the land where the airport was built.

"We are aware that inside and outside of Spain there's the idea that building this airport was absurd and doesn't make sense economically because it's an airport 'without passengers,'" Perez wrote.

"Nevertheless...that has nothing to do with reality.

"It's an airport mainly aimed at business and industrial activity -- air cargo and [other] businesses in the aeronautical industry," he said in the statement.

"There is a large amount of unbuilt land, zoned for industrial use, around the airport that is being offered to the buyer as part of the airport package," he added.

Princely sum

Who'd buy an airport?

An idle Saudi prince? They probably get enough sun.

Amazon's Jeff Bezos could snap it up: he might save on freight.

Or maybe Ryanair should actually buy its own airport.

They say every cloud has a silver lining. For now, Ciudad Real International is waiting for one to appear.

Read: 20 most annoying things people do on planes

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