Calls for airport project to go ahead

by CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

An organisation of engineers has called on the Government to push forward with plans to build Lisbon’s new international airport.

Carlos Matias Ramos of The Beadle of the Order of Engineers said that the Government needed to set out a long-term public works investment strategy within the Transport Strategic Plan, or PET.

Speaking on the sidelines of a conference into the PET in Lisbon, Carlos Matias Ramos said the Government “should advance with the new airport”.

He argued that the country needed a new main international airport because Lisbon’s existing Portela airport would “reach saturation point in the short term” and the new airport would take “at least seven years to build”.

Carlos Matias Ramos added that the construction of the new airport would mean that Madrid airport would not become “more important than Lisbon” on the Iberian Peninsula as a gateway to Africa and Latin America.

He said that the growth in passengers at Portela had been “remarkable” and, according to forecasts, would continue to grow.

According to the PET for the period 2011-2015, “the Government is to review guidelines on its reasons which had served as the basis for decisions to build the new airport”.

The Government has temporarily shelved the new airport plan in order to give priority to expansion plans at Portela and get the maximum profitability from existing capacity.

Carlos Matias Ramos said that the PET was “more like a budget than a plan”, adding that the document had a “financial logic rather than a strategic one”.

As late as October 2010, the then Socialist PS government of José Sócrates had planned to move ahead with Lisbon’s New International Airport, despite delays, and the cost of the project was initially included in the State Budget for 2011.

To organise the new airport project, the Government set up a company called NAER and slated 2017 as its initial completion date.

The new airport was initially to be located at Ota near Alenquer, but then plans shifted to the south side of the Tejo at Alcochete. Other sites mooted since the early 1970s have included Rio Frio, also very near Lisbon.

It is still not certain now that the existing airport at Portela will ever be closed given that the Government has spent considerable sums in recent years modernising and expanding existing facilities, improving the duty free shopping and restaurant area and including a second Terminal 2 for regional flights. It is also currently extending the metro line to the existing airport.

In May 2010, the PS Government put the project on ice because of the financial and economic crisis. The cost of the new airport could be up to €6 billion. It is projected to deal with traffic of 22 million passengers a year and retain a 50 year concession.