Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Rise of the zombie airport: How ghost hubs are brought back to life

  • Many abandoned, or 'ghost' airports, are finding new uses.
  • Ciudad Real Central Airport was used in the backdrop of Pedro Almodóvar's film, 'I'm So Excited'.
  • Malmö, Sweden's Bulltofta Airport has been converted into park space.
  • Old U.S. airports in Denver and Austin have been turned into housing complexes.

(CNN) -- Though Ciudad Real Central Airport sits just 150 miles north of Spain's capital, Madrid, the bankrupt complex is a desolate stretch of concrete.

In happier times, it was an expensive symbol of Spain's thriving economy and optimism for the future. Now, it serves as a reminder of the country's financial failings.

"The construction of an airport like this, and of other places that are completely worthless; there were a lot of them -- is responsible for the crisis," director Pedro Almodóvar told Slate.

Almodóvar is one of several people who have since found a use for the airport, which shut down April last year. He shot his latest film, "I'm So Excited", on the empty runways. Almodóvar shot at night. During the day, Lexus Spain used the site to show off their latest model to journalists.

"There are 4.5 kilometers of unused runway -- it's basically the longest in Europe," says Jose Antonio Galve, the PR Manager for Lexus Spain.

"When you're on it, it's strange, because there's no sensation of it being a road, and you have no sense of when it will end. It appealed to us because it was a very different experience."

There is little chance that the airport will recover its investment; it cost $1.3 billion to build, and though not in use, it continues to incur maintenance costs.

"Although having that kind of surface would be great for racing, how much are you going to make to justify the cost of acquiring that much land?" asks Angela Gittens, the director general of Airports Council International.

Likely, says Gittens, the owners are simply biding their time until they sell it, piecemeal.

"Typically, there's not a whole lot of instances where someone comes along and buys the whole property," says Gittens. "The facilities, or set of facilities, don't lend themselves to other uses."

At Berlin Bradenburg Willy Brandt Airport, the $5.7 billion travel hub that has yet to open, tourists can tour the empty grounds via bus or bike. According to the airport's spokesman Lars Wagner, its opening has been stalled because of problems with the fire protection system. An airport tour now, he says, gives visitors an opportunity to walk areas that, once opened, will be cordoned off. Mainly, though, he hints it's a chance to market the airport while it waits to open.

Some former hubs have reinvented themselves for good. In Malmö, Sweden, Bulltofta Airport was converted into a park and entertainment complex. Though one of the old hangars was turned into a school, according to Anders Reisnert, a cultural historian for the city, the area has lost its aeronautic identity.

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