With the long-awaited second environmental impact study still very much ‘up in the air’, the government is ploughing ahead with ‘change of use’ plans for the Air Force base at Montijo.
As prime minister António Costa said earlier this year: “There is no Plan B”, no matter what environmental NGOs and others warn about opening Lisbon’s second runway next to a birding wetland, alongside a heavily-populated residential area (click here).
Thus, the Council of Ministers has set aside roughly €19 million to pay for ‘rehousing’ Air Force squadrons, and works on the site to prepare it for civilian use should get underway by April 2020.
As for the new EIA that was promised two months ago, very little has been explained.
Compiled by airports authority ANA – after its first attempt flunked for being “confused, generic and full of deficiencies” (click here) – it has been submitted to Portuguese Environment Agency APA, but has not yet been given the green-light.
The reason, say reports, is that APA wants clarification on a few points (we are not told which), and this has yet to be received, and then ‘accepted’.
As Expresso has stressed, at issue here is the safety of planes using the new runway, bearing in mind “the risk of collision of birds with places, impacts on species nesting in the area and the effects of noise on nearby urban areas”.
Expresso claims it will be hard to see APA giving its approval before September. But the government has already set a date – October 27 “after the elections” – for all the aeronautical entities to present an integrated project that will allow for up to 72 flight movements an hour from Montijo.
Air Force reorganisation implies the moving to Beja of a number of flight squadrons, and the moving of a helicopter unit currently at Beja to Sintra.
In total, the cost of all the Air Force relocations will cost over €200 million, says Expresso, citing defence minister João Gomes Cravinho – but for now, the government has limited itself to sanctioning the first 19 million, to be spent in phases: €1,6 milhões this year; €5,7 million in 2020; €4 million in 2021; €5,3 million in 2022; €2 million in 2023 and “just €50,000 in 2024”.
Among the many criticisms of the plan to ‘expand to Montijo’ is that the site only represents the equivalent of a ‘sticking plaster’ for congestion at Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado.
Environmentalists and civic groups argue there are other sites much better equipped to become Lisbon’s second airport, but for reasons unclear, the government simply isn’t prepared to consider them.