Two years and a month. During that period, the El Palomar Air Base functioned as a commercial airport. For some the time was short. For others, too long. The airline terminal low cost started its activity in February 2018 and ended it with the coronavirus pandemic.
On December 14, 2020, the national government raised technical and economic issues to suspend commercial flights indefinitely. Eight months after that decision, in El Palomar opinions continue to be opposingThere are those who demand the return of the civil airport and those who ask that the project be scrapped forever.
Between opening and termination, they spent almost 2.5 million passengers (for many it was the first time on board a plane), a public hearing in which there were insults and blows between officials and councilors, objected environmental impact reports, a dispute between taxi drivers and Uber drivers in the area, several federal lawsuits for complaints and dozens of marches (of workers, neighbors, politicians, environmentalists), for and against.
Today the airport is open, but not operational for low cost lines, but for aircraft of the 1st Air Brigade of the Argentine Air Force. There are also flight school activities and official transfers. Days ago, on August 21, a Hercules took off on a humanitarian mission from the Palomar to assist the population of Haiti affected by an earthquake.
Without the commercial terminal, the surroundings of the El Palomar airport show little movement and several businesses that had settled in the area closed. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros.
“The suspension of commercial activity at the airport corresponded to a decision of the Ministry of Health, which enabled Ezeiza and San Fernando as a safe sanitary corridor, and later to Aeroparque,” he told Clarion a source from the communication area of the Regulatory Body of the National Airport System (ORSNA).
The entity reports to the Ministry of Transportation of the Nation and is in charge of executing and supervising airport infrastructure and supervising and regulating airport concessionaires and administrators. “It is not economically sustainable to maintain three operating airports for the same area of influence. It is irrational and illogical to sustain three airports (Ezeiza, Aeroparque and El Palomar) in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area,” added the same source, and continued: ” cities in the world that have three airports handle passenger volumes well above the Argentine commercial aviation market. Ezeiza is 37 kilometers from El Palomar and Aeroparque 28 kilometers, they are the two airports with the highest capacity and best prepared in the country. “
El Palomar has an identity associated with aviation. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros
From the ORSNA they explained that the technical and health issues that prevented the commercial reopening remain, because the terminal “does not meet the minimum required spaces to respect the rules of social distancing, both for passengers and workers. “They also indicated that the airport has a precarious authorization and It does not have a fire-fighting system installation.
According to official calculations, the continuity of the commercial airport requires an investment of more than $ 4 billion on the runway alone. “The companies that operated in El Palomar are not making any request or claim to return, on the contrary, they are operating with growth prospects, which is why they request more moorings and announce, both Jetsmart and Flybondi, plans to incorporate new aircraft, “added the ORSNA source.
A parking lot for sale and an unfinished building. The surroundings of the terminal were filled with idle spaces. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros
But it is the merchants, various neighbors, mayors of the western suburbs (mostly Peronists) and opposition leaders who ask for the reactivation of the terminal. Hernán Gallardo, president of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of El Palomar, listed losses: “The project of a gastronomic pole that had been presented in the Deliberative Council stopped, restaurants and cafes were closed, the construction of four buildings was interrupted, vacant parking spaces were left, even the newspaper man who was near the airport left “.
“Many cities would like to have an airport. It is like a city to which you have to provide products and services. puts into operation all kinds of shops and activities “added. Gallardo is 53 years old and has lived in the area. As a child he woke up to the noise of Hercules warming up engines and at school he saw the belly of the plane pass over his head. “We had a genuine opportunity to grow and they took it from us. I wonder what needs to be done to get the commercial operation back. Let’s sit down to talk, those who disagree too. I am not interested in an airport at any cost. I speak as a merchant and as a citizen of Palomar “.
Fortunata restaurant, located a few steps from the air terminal, closed in December. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros
Just as there are many who oppose the suspension of commercial flights, there are also many who approve it. Vanina Carmesella Romano, 48, is part of the latter group. She also grew up watching the Hercules pass by, but clarified that the frequency then was two planes per week, much lower than the departures and arrivals of low cost airlines.
“I am in favor of having connectivity in a country as large as ours. I have nothing against airports and I am not opposed to people being able to travel paying more affordable prices. I am just not in favor of the installation of a airport without forecast or study of environmental impact “, Vanina said. His two daughters go to Emmaus school, bordering the airport.
In one of the public hearings – which were convened after the works to establish the airport began and due to the requirement of a court ruling – Vanina Carmesella Romano spoke. In his presentation, he appealed to national law 26,061, which establishes, among many other points, the right of students to study in an adequate space.
“Around the airport there are 30 schools. The intention was for it to be international, which would have meant an arrival or departure every 21 minutes. In the public hearing I raised how the boys could have class with that level of noise pollution. What learning process could take place under these conditions “, he asked. And he added:” Many people saw a growth for El Palomar and I understand it, but I am not going to give up the education and health of children for economic growth “.
The airport received millions of pesos in infrastructure. There were works both inside the terminal and around the railway station and on Avenida Derqui, to get there from the Autopista del Oeste. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros
In July 2018, scientists from the University of Tres de Febrero (UNTREF) carried out an acoustic impact study, to which they had access Clarion. The report had determined that the air navigation activities at El Palomar generated annoyance in the community. And the authors of the analysis anticipated serious problems, at the environmental level and in the health of the population, in case the number of flights were quadrupled. At that time there was 26 daily operations. And even before the pandemic, by court decision, airplanes could only take off and land between 7 and 22.
“The collapses (the action of leaving the ground of an airplane) were a source of very strong noise, to the point that students and teachers had to pause their activities until the plane moved away”, described Alejandro Karmib, also a member of the Emmaus school community. For Karmib, the coexistence between the commercial airport and the school was incompatible, since the institute was located at the head of the runway, with the potential risk that this represented.
The decision to remove commercial flights and leave only the military operation of the El Palomar airport continues to divide the residents and merchants of the western suburbs. Photo: Rafael Mario Quinteros
Silvina Samparisi is also part of the Emmaus community. Her three children attend that school and she lived from 3 to 12 years in the aeronautical district of El Palomar. Then he moved ten blocks from the military airport and today his house is five.
“Palomar was always Morón’s backyard. With low cost flights that changed. The movement started, restaurants were opened, buildings were built, parking lots and cafes were added. But everything closed and we went back to the wild west, as I say. “From where I look at it, Silvina believes that the suspension of commercial flights represents a bad news: “In terms of local commerce, it is a setback. In terms of employment, too. For the country’s connectivity, the same. The airport is dismantled and it makes me very sad.”