Montijo airport controversy reaches new heights

Controversy over the choice of Montijo airbase for a second Lisbon passenger terminal has moved to a new level. ANA airports authority – desperate to get the environmental ‘okay’ to get started – has come up with a plan to save birds from colliding with planes by buying or renting alternative nesting grounds “far from flightpaths”.

The proposal to provide 260 species of migratory birds a choice of eight nearby saltmarshes has been described as “perfectly normal” by environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes – the man pilloried for declaring that asbestos was “not a dangerous material”, and who continues to insist that lithium mining is “essential for the country to meet decarbonisation targets”.

But it has been met with amazement by members of the public who have left comments online to the effect of “once the alternative saltmarshes are purchased or rented, the government will send emails to all the birds registered with SEF (the border control agency) and tell them they have to move house … pathetic!”

Experts too have been left shaking their heads. 

Said Domingos Leitão, executive director of SPEA (the Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds), with habitual diplomacy, “this looks like being a false compensatory measure” even from a legal perspective.

Leitão explained that the various saltmarshes ‘identified’ to take fleeing avians are already protected. In other words, they can’t be used as compensatory measures, even if a solution was found on how to inform birds that they need to ‘vamoose’ as a collision with passenger jets arriving at the rate of 38 per hour might just ruffle feathers (of all concerned).

SPEA’s viewpoint is that “something new is needed to compensate for a damage” – but what it could be is somehow still left hanging.

For critics who have said all along that Montijo is the worst possible place for a new terminal to take the pressure of Lisbon’s heaving Humberto Delgado complex, this is just another example of institutional lunacy.

Civil engineers have already trashed the plan on the basis that it is a short-term sticking plaster carrying enormous environmental costs for local communities.

As for the birds, ANA airports authority has admitted that roughly 250 hectares that today represent an official sanctuary will be “significantly affected”.

Meantime, the second environmental impact study (the first having been rejected on the basis that it was “confused, generic and full of deficiencies”) is still under public discussion.

That in itself is ‘curious’ – bearing in mind it should have been ready in March.

All in all, the Montijo controversy looks set to stagger on until the elections are safely out of the way, at which point someone in power might agree that the military airbase constructed in the 50s and since surrounded by residential development is not the best place for a 21st century passenger terminal playing its part in bringing 50 million tourists to Portugal every year.

Online commentary certainly seems to hope so. 

Said one reader, reacting to the saltmarsh buy-up plan: “This airport is an accident waiting to happen. The question is not if, but when there is a serious collision with birds …”

Study highlights health risks posed by jet planes

Released (almost quietly) during this controversy has been a report that concludes that people who “work, live or spend any form of prolonged period of time” near Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado airport “are exposed to high concentrations of ultrafine particles of such magnitude that constitutes a considerable risk to their health”.

Problems that could be precipitated by particles “so fine that they are 700 times less dense than a strand of hair” range from “neurological disorders to fetal development and cognitive problems in children”.

Explains lead investigator Margarida Lopes, who developed the study within the Sciences Technology and Environmental Engineering Faculty of the New University of Lisbon, the findings are ‘worrying’ – particularly as the short-term future suggests jet planes will now be arriving at two high-density residential destinations within close proximity to each other – Montijo being a relative stone’s throw ‘as the crow flies’ (excuse the pun) from Lisbon.

These ‘nanoparticles’ don’t stay put either. They float about within a radius of at least one km, and they’re found on airplane descent paths in areas like Amoreiras.

Lopes stressed that “until a few years ago, no one even suspected that particles so minuscule could have such a large impact on health”. Their measurement – and recognition of their prejudicial effects on public health – is “recent” and there is a “growing preoccupation, due to their direct absorption by the body, through the respiratory system”.

Nanoscience is very new, concludes TSF radio, and while it’s now clear that these particles affect people’s health, there is still no law setting limits on levels of exposure.

The ominous feeling behind Lopes’ study is that so little about it has been discussed in the media.

TSF carried an oblique comment from environmental NGO Quercus about the “need to transition to less polluting fuels”, but the bottom-line is that until this happens, and if Montijo does become a new passenger hub, hundreds of thousands of people will be at risk.

Portugal could beat records for tourism in 2019 despite airport deficiencies

Despite the perceived “brake on tourist growth” posed by the deficiencies of Lisbon Airport, President of Tourism Luís Araújo believes 2019 could be another record-breaking year.

Talking to Jornal Económico, Araújo said tourist numbers were up 6% in June (with revenue up 7%) and figures were likely to maintain this level, if not exceed it, for July and August.

Last year’s ‘record’ was 22.8 million holidaymakers, with 2019’s headed towards 24 million, he said.

Particularly excited by the Portuguese market are the Chinese.

Visitor numbers grew in the first half of the year by 16%, representing around 200,000 holidaymakers and 300,000 ‘sleepovers’.

Other Asian markets also in ascension include Malaysia, Hong Kong and even Vietnam.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com