MUNICH (Reuters) - Munich residents voted against development of a third runway at Germany's second-biggest airport, dealing another blow to airlines clamoring for growth in Europe's biggest economy.
Just over 54 percent of polled voters were against the new runway and 45.7 percent in favor, according to preliminary results of the vote on Sunday.
Airlines such as Deutsche Lufthansa and Air Berlin have already been hit by a ban on night flights at Germany's biggest airport in Frankfurt and delays to the opening of a new airport in Berlin.
"The fact that a relative majority of Munich residents voted against the construction of a third takeoff and landing strip shows how difficult it has become to make clear the significance of important infrastructure projects in our country," Munich airport chief Michael Kerkloh said in a statement.
Airport expansion is a major issue around the world as the interests of airlines and airport operators trying to meet growing demand for air travel are pitted against those of people who live near airports and see their property values diminished by planes roaring overhead.
Business leaders in Britain earlier this year urged the government there to rethink its opposition to the developed of a third runway at Heathrow airport, which is operating at almost full capacity.
Hong Kong has approved construction of a HK$136 billion ($17.5 billion) third runway at the city's international airport, though there are lingering concerns over environmental costs.
A German district government ruled in favor of the 1.2 billion euro ($1.5 billion) project in Munich almost a year ago.
But the city of Munich, which owns 23 percent of the airport, polled residents on whether it should use its veto power to block the airport expansion, which the airport's operator has said would create about 11,000 new jobs.
Munich airport has said the new runway is necessary to meet growing demand for air travel. Lufthansa said the outcome of the vote was "regrettable" and reiterated its warning that it could shift investments elsewhere if it cannot add capacity in Munich, one of its two German hubs.
Munich airport handled almost 38 million passenger last year and expects that figure to rise to more than 50 million in 2015, thanks to a 650-million-euro expansion of its Terminal 2, some 40 percent of which is being financed by Lufthansa.
(Reporting by Irene Preisinger; Additional reporting by Maria Sheahan; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Marguerita Choy)