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5 diciembre 2022

Marcos Díaz (Zaragoza Airport): “To support growth of more than 20%, either you invest or you die”

Born in Lugo, Marcos Díaz González holds a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Polytechnic University of Madrid and a Master in Business Administration (MBA) from the University of the Balearic Islands. Since the end of 2013, he has been managing Zaragoza Airport, the current strategic enclave for air freight transport in Spain, second only to Barajas in Madrid.

The airport broke its cargo record again with more than 194,000 tons in 2021. It is an upward trend despite the pandemic. What makes it continue to grow and make it one of the top 20 in Europe?

Zaragoza Airport has been growing at an average rate of more than 20% since 2006 and 2007, years in which several international operators began to operate from here. Year after year it has been doing an excellent job, both on our part as managers of the infrastructure and on the part of all the companies that work at the airport, which are ultimately responsible for moving the goods. The airport is just one more link and what we try to do is to add as much value as possible within the complicated nature of the airplane as a means of transportation, which, although it has many advantages, also has a higher cost than other means of transportation. For many years we have been very focused on making this process as efficient and agile as possible, and we believe that companies perceive this. More and more companies trust us and continue to choose this airport to move their import and export goods.

What are the factors that make Zaragoza Airport so attractive?

It is a combination of circumstances that leads a company to choose one airport or another. The location of Zaragoza is obvious, our strategic enclave from a logistical point of view: less than three hours by road from the main economic centers of Spain, more than 60% of the GDP and e-commerce of the peninsula. It is important our positioning next to Plaza, the largest logistics platform in southern Europe and intermodal center where the road, rail and airplane all come together in less than a kilometer. The logistics culture and the airport’s know-how are the reasons why more and more companies continue to place their trust in us. As far as the airport is concerned, the focus on cargo handling translates into a way of working, infrastructures, technical resources and an affection for cargo companies that might not be found at a smaller airport oriented to passenger traffic.

What kind of customers does the cargo terminal have? Well-known are Inditex or Dorna (Moto GP)…

Practically everything that can be moved by air passes through Zaragoza. It is a very specific merchandise, the cost of the airplane is higher than that of other means of transport such as ship or road, although these distances are being cut little by little due to extraordinary circumstances. The company that decides to move by air is because it has no other choice: very valuable merchandise, which has to be at destination shortly after being manufactured, perishable merchandise or merchandise of very high rotation that if it does not go by air it loses its value. Part of our volume is textile, but everything passes through here: works of art, emergency equipment, live animals or racing equipment as you mentioned. For several years Dorna has relied on the airport for the scheduling of Grand Prix events, both to bring in and return the teams’ material.

I guess it will be very different work processes to land a motorcycle or chicks here.

The animals are usually exported, whether they are day-old chicks or Spanish-bred horses that go to Central America and the Middle East. From here have come goats, partridges… animals of various kinds. Obviously, a living animal does not require the same care as an inert being, but what the customer is looking for is speed, efficiency and professionalism. In the case of animals, he looks for the care of the animal, that the flow is as careful and as agile as possible; and in the case of the goods, he looks for no damage, that the plane leaves and arrives on time and without any incident.

What works of art have passed through here?

Well (he thinks)… we have knowledge of works of art that have left museums through here.

Although in the short term they have already been told no, what could make Amazon choose Zaragoza Airport in the medium term for their air operations?

What they have told us is that in the short term they do not plan to use our infrastructure as a center of arrival or departure of goods. It is true that its implementation in Aragon is very important both at the level of data processing centers and at the logistic level with the processing centers, in this industrial park and in others. Therefore, it is not out of the question that in the medium term Amazon will start operating from here.

What is the airport’s cargo capacity, and is it using its maximum capacity?

It is not easy to say because the movement of goods involves several processes. In terms of infrastructure, in terms of runways, we have plenty with the new apron that we have just expanded with three additional positions towards the air base. It is true that on peak days there is no saturation, but we do have in mind a certain extension of the apron. There are agents involved in the ramp, in the cargo terminals, everyone has their own means and contracts with the companies, so we cannot define a global capacity of the infrastructure’s cargo volume; there are different processes that come into play. It is useless for me to expand the apron if the ramp agent does not put more human and material resources to serve more aircraft at the same time; or if the fueling people do not have enough trucks to fill several tanks ….. In the end, either we all go in the same direction or the merchandise does not go out and does not arrive. What has been achieved in these years is that all of us involved in the process have understood the opportunity we had before us for growth and have been responsible enough to accompany this growth with investment in infrastructure, technical and human resources.

So it does have more capacity per se.

We have more capacity, but if we grow all at the same time. We are now building a sixth cargo terminal, it has been awarded and when we deliver it it will start to operate and will increase cargo handling capacity in the warehouse area, but the ramp agents have to keep up with the growth. Now the ramp licenses are going out to bid, within a year they will change with new equipment and investment requirements.

What investments/works have been made in recent years?

Very important investments have been made. To support this 20%+ growth you either invest or you die. Investments have to be made in both growth and infrastructure maintenance. Recently, the parking apron has been expanded with 60,000 square meters more and three additional parking spaces for the largest aircraft we have. Two years ago the taxiways were renovated, a very important and necessary maintenance investment of 7 million euros. Right now we are investing in the new cargo terminal, 3 and a half million euros. There are many investments that are made, but they are not as visible as these that can be seen with the naked eye. In the passenger terminal we have also invested in the boarding area, which has been completely remodeled to increase capacity and the quality of the environment for passengers without increasing the surface area. We have the most important investment in the pipeline, the renovation of the long runway of almost 4 kilometers. This runway is quite old, it has some technical limitations and we are going to completely renovate both the runway and the parallel taxiway to be able to operate with the larger aircraft we have without any limitations. The idea is to keep growing and to accompany the growth demanded by our customers with more investments.

What were the airport’s traffic figures last year?

The last year has been quite peculiar as we know. We recovered 60-70% of the traffic of 2019, which was the last normal year we had and we closed it with almost 500,000 passengers, about 9,000 operations and almost 200,000 tons of cargo. In cargo we have continued to grow and we already exceeded last year’s 2019 figures. The schedule and the number of operations (on commercial flights) we have is even higher than in 2019, but the occupancy rates we have right now on the current flights have not recovered. As normality and confidence in international flights returns, they will improve. In 2019 we are hovering around 80 or 90% occupancy on low-cost airlines, which are our priority customers.

What destinations does Zaragoza Airport offer passengers?

We have a very interesting map of destinations. In the Canary Islands, with Gran Canaria, Tenerife and Fuerteventura; in the Balearic Islands, the three islands. In Europe we are connected with the main European capitals Lisbon (which will stop operating next month), Paris, London, Brussels, Bergamo, Vienna; and Marrakech in Morocco. It is a question of continuing to work with the airlines hand in hand with the Government of Aragon, studying potential destinations, talking with the companies and promoting Aragon abroad. This is the passenger we are interested in. At the moment we are an eminently emitting market of tourists, between 10 and 15 % are foreigners living abroad. What we are trying to do is to increase this percentage; in the end, the traveler who comes by air spends an average of more than 100 euros a day. This can only be achieved with foreign promotion and we are working hand in hand with the Government of Aragon to take advantage of these destinations we already have, to promote them and increase the number of foreigners visiting us.

Are you satisfied with the promotion abroad?

Well, everything can be improved. What we are trying to do is to enhance the value of the destination, but tourism promotion is the responsibility of the Government of Aragon. We collaborate with them in everything they ask us to do, and yes, we believe there is room for improvement. In the end, the figures are there; when we have promoted the destination, we have seen that the impact was significant in terms of the number of foreigners visiting us. We believe there is room for improvement.

There are destinations recurrently requested by users, are there any plans to expand the offer?

That depends on the airlines; they have their own commercial policies. What we do is to detect potential destinations, carry out business and feasibility studies on the routes and transmit them to the Government of Aragon, which is the one who talks to the airlines. In the end it is a long term work, the companies have their plans, their assets, which are the airplanes, and they try to make them profitable in the cities that offer them the best return. We try to sell Zaragoza within our negotiating capacity, but sometimes it is not easy.

But Zaragoza has tourist and business attractions.

For a route to work, there has to be a combination of circumstances. It is clear that Zaragoza is a very important city from a business point of view. From the tourist point of view we have a lot to offer and nothing to envy to other regions that are much more important, but the truth is that we are not known outside Spain. If you ask in Europe about Spain, they know Madrid, Barcelona, Ibiza, Valencia, Seville, Canary Islands… but Zaragoza does not know how to place it on the map. This suggests that there is a lot of work to be done to promote and create a tourist image. For a route to work, either you are a tourist or economic point or a mixture of both. You have to offer something to the airline.

Any specific destination or city that is already in the works?

There are many potential destinations. Through the surveys we do with passengers, which are crossed with other airports, we detect passengers from our area of influence that escape us through other airports to fly to destinations that are not served from Zaragoza. We work with the airlines and try to market them, but in the end the decision is up to the airline.

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