Austrian federal court rejects Vienna Airport's third runway plans on climate protection grounds
Vienna Airport's planned third runway
Tue 21 Feb 2017 – Austria’s Federal Administrative Court has ruled plans for a new third runway at Vienna International Airport should be rejected on climate change grounds, and that the positive economic benefits of the airport expansion were outweighed by the potential harm to the public interest caused by higher carbon emissions. Plans for the runway were first submitted back in 2007 and had been approved by the Lower Austrian regional government. In its 128-page decision, the court found the increase in aviation CO2 emissions from an extra runway was at odds with the country’s 2020 transport sector reduction target. Vienna Airport’s operator said a third runway was of vital importance to its economic future and described the decision as “legally and objectively untenable and false”. It now intends to file an extraordinary appeal with the Austrian Supreme Administrative Court and pledged to “continue to vigorously pursue this project.”
The ruling by the Federal Administrative Court concluded the third runway would increase Austria’s annual CO2 emissions by between 1.79 and 2.02% by 2025, against the country’s 2020 transport sector emissions reduction target of 2.25%. This, said the court, would be contrary to Austria’s national and international obligations to mitigate the causes of climate change. It also observed the short-term commercial and employment gains were outweighed by the likely economic consequences of a destabilised climate.
“The airport’s possibilities to reduce CO2 emissions through its own measures, such as the installation of solar panels and changing its vehicles to electric cars, were insufficient,” it added.
A legal observer noted that environmental protection is a right embodied in Austria’s constitution, in the constitution of the region of Lower Austria and in the EU’s Human Rights Charter. The head of the Environmental Law Institute at Linz University described the court’s decision as a landmark ruling.
A lawyer for the airport told the newspaper Die Presse: “As far as I know, it is unique that climate protection has been used as an argument to block a concrete plan.”
The airport operator, Flughafen Wien, says on its website the current system of two intersecting runways cannot effectively handle long-term international aviation development at the airport. In terms of runway capacity, it says 1 + 1 does not equal 2 but only 1.6, and it is not possible to meet the anticipated demand for international flights with the existing system. “The resultant bottlenecks threaten the future development of the airport and the region as a whole,” it warns. “With a third runway, Vienna International Airport will be able to consolidate its role as an economic driving force in the future.”
The airport argues an additional take-off and landing runway would also reduce delays, fuel consumption and noise by doing away with holding patterns and queued aircraft during busy periods.
According to its climate protection web page, air traffic accounts for 76% of CO2 emissions at the airport. Carbon emissions in 2013 totalled 308,169 tonnes, equivalent to 1.3% of the total of Vienna and Lower Austria, and 0.5% for the country as a whole. The airport is accredited at Level 2 (Reduction) of the industry’s Airport Carbon Accreditation programme.
Vienna handled 23.4 million passengers in 2016, an increase of 2.5% over the previous year, and is forecast to grow by up to 2% in 2017, although the operator sees the year ahead as “challenging”. The number of flight movements dropped marginally in 2016 by 0.2% and seat load factors fell by 0.8% to 73.4%.