With a total population of just over 77,000, inhabitants of the European nation of Andorra could theoretically fit into some of the world’s larger football stadiums. The country’s population is small, but so is its footprint, covering an area of just 468 square kilometers. Despite attempts at developing an airport, the country remains without its own facility, with its mountainous terrain as the main hindrance.
Mountains of challenges (and the challenge of mountains)
Landlocked between France and Spain in the Pyrenees mountains, Andorra has the unfortunate title of “largest country in the world without an airport.” As we’ve already mentioned multiple times, this is due to the country’s topography and terrain.
As we covered in March, the country has been working to get an airport of its own. For quite some time, the Chamber of Commerce has been working on a three-axis plan that includes rail connections, internal mobility, and a national airport. Feasibility studies were conducted, but technical reports by the Andorran Aeronautical Authority (AAA) concluded that “the limitations and safety of the project are in doubt” and “are important enough not to continue with the project.” Some consider the project to be dead- at least for now.
Below is a video of a simulated approach and landing. You can fast forward to roughly 3:28 to see an Airbus A320’s final approach to the proposed airport runway.
As you can see, Andorra’s absence of airports is not for lack of wanting. Despite its small population, Andorra can see upwards of eight million visitors each year. Most of these visitors come from France and Spain, but foreigners from further afield have been increasing in numbers, a trend which is likely to resume as the travel industry continues to recover.
Unfortunately, when it comes to accessing “the outside world,” getting to and from the country requires a roughly two and a half-hour drive from the airports in Barcelona or Toulouse- most certainly a barrier to tourists hoping for a short trip.
Andorra’s closest airport
While it’s technically outside of Andorra’s borders, accessing the airport of Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell (LEU) is much more feasible for Andorrans via a relatively short 30-40 minute drive from the capital and main town of Andorra la Vella.
This airport briefly saw service to Barcelona in the early 80s but has remained relatively unused since this air connection was canceled. In more recent times, the airport was purchased by the Catalan regional government. Working with the Andorran government, renovations and upgrades were made to the facility so that it would be able to once again host commercial flights.
After apparently being the only bidder for a PSO (public service obligation) contract, Air Nostrum was selected to provide a commercial air link between Madrid Barajas (MAD) and Andorra-La Seu d’Urgell. The new twice-weekly route is set to commence on December 17th of this year using Air Nostrum’s ATR 72-600s. With Air Nostrum being an Iberia subsidiary, oneworld flights further afield can be booked on a single itinerary, with a single stop in Madrid- something Andorrans (and visitors to Andorra) must be looking forward to.
Is this the best option for Andorra?
While the Andorran government and its inhabitants would likely prefer an airport within its own borders, it looks like the MAD-LEU service will be the best option available (for now, at least).
The country does have a heliport – but no regular commercial activity appears to take place there. An international commercial heliport would be welcomed and is likely the best solution for this small country and its terrain. Perhaps the rise of eVTOL vehicles and ‘air taxis’ will lead to a solution that is realistic and affordable for this small nation.
But what do you think? What is the best air transportation solution for Andorra? Let us know by leaving a comment.
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