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Special Report - Challenges in Airport Construction

Special Report - Infrastructure

The financial crisis and high levels of national debt are making it hard to come by infrastructure investment. But environmental concern is usually the stated reason for stunted hub development in Europe and elsewhere. New runways in particular are often bitterly contested.

London Heathrow’s much-needed third runway is off the cards and Frankfurt’s soon to open new runway will be used for landings only due to noise abatement issues. Also affected by a night curfew, it took 10 years for operating company, Fraport, to get the runway open at all, due to various legal actions.

The infrastructure issue is widely recognized. Eurocontrol released its Long-Term Forecast in January 2011 and warned that “future air traffic growth will be limited by the available airport capacity.”

Airports Council International (ACI) Europe has also made its voice heard. “Given the ever-increasing difficulties and uncertainties that Europe’s airports face in seeking expansion approvals, the blunt reality of unprecedented congestion will sneak up on us very quickly,” says Olivier Jankovec, Director General, ACI Europe. “Europe’s airports need their license to grow. Without it, European air transport of all types will be compromised and passengers will suffer significant disruption.”

Airports certainly aren’t ignoring their environmental responsibilities. ACI Europe runs the Airport Carbon Accreditation scheme, which has already saved more than 600,000 tonnes of CO2. And most airports adhere to some form of recognized environmental performance.

Growing and maintaining environmental credentials is possible. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport opened its third runway in 2008, 16 years after the idea was first mentioned. The extra tarmac has cut delays, potentially saving five million gallons of fuel and 50,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases. Sea-Tac won a 2010 ACI-North America Environmental Award and the Clean Airports Partnership uses the gateway for many best-practice initiatives.

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