THE GOVERNMENT has formally announced that controversial plans for a 3.1 billion euro international airport at Ota will now go ahead. Work will begin at the Ota military airfield near Alenquer in 2010, creating 48,000 jobs in the construction industry over seven years. The airport should be up-and-running by 2017.
In the meantime, the government has pledged to keep Lisbon’s current airport operational for the foreseeable future, injecting 400 million euros of investment over the next few years to take account of increasing passenger flow.
The new airport is deemed as necessary because by 2012-15 Portela will have already reached its maximum capacity of 40 landings/takeoffs per hour, with peak movements reaching 42. Portela airport would then probably be closed, but the government says it will debate the future of the site, which has been an international airport since 1947, when it averaged 10,000 flights per year. Today, the airport copes with 100,000 flights per year.
“As to the future use of the land at Portela following its redundancy, this is a question that has to be debated with all interested parties, including Lisbon Câmara, which will decide what is best for Lisbon and the country,” said Public Works Minister Mário Lino last week.
The consequences, argues the government, of not building a new airport for the future will be a deterioration in services for passengers and staff and a loss of competitiveness, as Portela is no longer able to cope with increased passenger numbers and freight air traffic.
The government also argues that enlarging the capital’s current airport to allow for more flights in and out of the city increases the risk of a serious air traffic accident happening over a densely populated area and raises air and noise pollution levels. Plus the extension is limited due to land restraints and high financial costs of buying land occupied by housing and paying compensation.
The Resident readers will remember that Lisbon Mayor, Carmona Rodrigues, called for a detailed debate into the new airport and the future of the existing one at his swearing-in ceremony in early November. Last week, he called for a national referendum on the future of Portela, which has undergone significant modernisation and investment since Expo 98 and Euro 2004 championships in Portugal. At a recent press conference, Mário Lino said that “large projects of this kind always courted controversy and never received universal and unanimous backing from all parties”.
The preliminary plan for the new airport was also unveiled and will consist of a main terminal building, a shopping centre, two runways, parking for 100 planes, car parking for passengers and staff, cargo warehousing, customs blocks, a medical centre, a veterinary clinic, a high speed TGV rail link into Lisbon and road links to the North-bound A1. The new airport, capable of coping with around 80 landings and take-offs per hour, will be spread over a 1,810 hectare site and cater for 19 million passengers a year on opening, rising to 32 million passengers per year at full capacity.
The government, which created a company called Novo Aeroporto SA (NAER) in 1998 to guide the project, is expected to stump up only 10 per cent of the total investment package. The rest of the funding comes from a consortium of private companies, which should see a return on their investment within 23 years.
A detailed costing plan for the project, with figures in millions of euros, was also unveiled and is as follows: 65 for land purchasing, 627 for land preparation, 542 for air operations, 500 for air terminals and 317 for general networks.
Since 1998, more than 14 different sites have been examined and scores of studies have been commissioned for Portugal’s new international airport. These sites were whittled down to just two locations: Ota and Rio Frio, although the latter was initially thought the best option by the Portuguese government but did not have a significant enough population catchment in terms of future employment to qualify for EU project grants.
The minister said that the new three billion euro airport had to form, for the EU, part of the trans-European transport network, which qualify for cheap loans from the European Central Bank and other EU infrastructure grants. “One of the conditions for the EU investment is that the project begins before 2010 and offers employment possibilities from surrounding settlements. The eventual project should create a total of 48,000 jobs,” he said. Chris Graeme