Beja airport is often referred to as the ‘unused Portuguese airport’. What a waste, and you have to ask, why is the government thinking of building a new airport when Beja stands there almost unused.
The airbase was established in 1964, originally built to serve as a training facility for the West German Air Force, due to airspace limitations within West Germany. It’s often said that it was an American airbase, but it wasn’t. Until 1993 it was used particularly for weapons training, and in 1987 the Portuguese Air Force’s 103 Squadron and its Lockheed T-33 and Northrop T-38 aircraft was relocated from Montijo. After their arrival, the base started to host a mixed array of fixed and rotary-wing trainers, as well as maritime patrol aircraft. The airbase has also served as one of the Space Shuttle landing sites.
It looks like a reality check needs to be done. Beja is a very good airport, very well situated between the Algarve and Lisbon and it has a 3.4 kilometre runway, the longest runway in Portugal. It’s long enough for any known passenger or transport aircraft. It has a new EUR33 million EU-funded civilian Terminal opened in 2011
So what’s the problem?
The oft quoted problem is that of access by rail or road. This problem is a lot cheaper to resolve than building a new airport, let alone a runway of this length and capacity. A rail station located inside the airport is considered a must these days. Is that a problem? Not if you consider that the Intercity rail line from Lisbon to Beja passes only a few hundred metres to the east of the airport. Is it an insurmountable problem, or challenge, to lay a branch line into the airport terminal. Lisbon Beja trains could easily pass the airport terminal and then return back to the main line to carry on to Lisbon or Beja. It wouldn’t even be necessary to add extra trains until the traffic growth justified it.
The Linha do Alentejo
A rail connection would be a bigger problem, or would it? There is an existing line known as the ‘Linha do Alentejo’. This line terminates at Funcheira where it meets the high speed Lisbon Algarve line. Two public tenders were published in Diário da República for the development of Studies and Projects for the Modernization of the Alentejo Line, integrated in the National Investment Plan - PNI2030. Within the scope of these two tenders, the Modernization project for the section between Casa Branca - Beja will be developed, the study of the execution of a Railway Connection to Beja Airport was included. This was 2021, not long ago.
What about the roads?
This is probably a more costly undertaking, but the IP8 passes close to the airport and connects to the A2/IP1 motorway. This would need to be extended to a dual carriageway, not impossible
This would give fast road access both from the north and the south. Again you have to observe that extending an existing road is a far less expensive option that building a new airport, which would need road and rail anyway.
Take off and landing over countryside not a city centre
As convenient as Lisbon airport is, it’s still a major international airport situated almost in the centre of a city. Safety has always been a concern, though it must be said, there has never been an ‘incident’. However, current wisdom says build airports outside cities. Beja airport offers both takes off and landing over open countryside. Although Beja is close, the runway faces south and north, Beja is to the East.
Beja airport has a lot of plusses
Who would use Beja. Almost certainly it wouldn’t be TAP. They have all their infrastructure, maintenance, hangers, headquarters in and around Lisbon airport. It’s their ‘home’. If road and rail connections were resolved, the likely candidates would be the low cost airlines who serve Lisbon. Faro serves the Algarve well and has plenty of space. Lisbon needs space, and Beja has got it. Just look at airports serving London, they are all (except London City) situated outside the capital with a one hour journey. Luton still does not have a rail terminal in the airport, yet it’s a very busy airport.
Currently Lisbon to Beja is 176 km with a journey time of about two hours. With road and rail improvements this could probably be cut to around a little more than one hour, and that makes Beja airport a very attractive alternative for the low cost airlines. Almost certainly landing fees would be substantially cheaper, always an attraction for a low cost airline. Airport management is in the hands of ANA (Vinci), the same as Lisbon and Faro. They are very professional operators of airports around the world. If the government asks them to make it work and provide the infrastructure to get passengers there quickly and efficiently, there is little doubt that they could do this, and do it well.
Beja is ready to go with three hours notice
The Beja airport management say that they are able to receive any aircraft, of any size and capacity with three hours notice. The alternative projects for a second Lisbon airport are still within a time frame of about three years planning and handling protests mainly from environmental groups. Once approved, if indeed they are approved, there will be another three years of construction, at least. You won’t need to get your calculator out to work out the difference between three hours and probably three plus three years for alternatives to ‘get off the ground’.
Sort out the transport links and use the facilities that are already up and running.
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.