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Munich airport gets clearance for third runway; environmentalists fight on

An aircraft lands at Munich's airport, December 2, 2014. REUTERS/Michael Dalder

BERLIN (Reuters) - Munich airport, Germany’s second largest and a key base for Lufthansa, won approval on Wednesday for its plans to build a third runway when a federal court rejected the remaining appeals against it.

Airport expansion is a hot topic in Europe, pitting local residents and environmentalists against carriers and airports facing increased global competition. Protesters this week disrupted flights at London’s Heathrow after a commission recommended the government to build a third runway there to end decades of wrangling and indecision.

Munich airport currently serves around 40 million passengers a year and expects this to rise to about 58 million by 2025.

The complaint against a prior decision from a Munich court in 2014 was brought by a Bavarian environmental group, Bund Naturschutz, and five individuals.

The Leipzig-based federal court had already rejected a similar complaint brought by local municipalities in February. It said on Wednesday the Munich court decision was now fully binding and the airport had the right to build the runway.

Obstacles remain, however. Munich residents voted against the runway in 2012, and the airport’s owners - the state of Bavaria, the German government and the city of Munich - are in disagreement over the expansion.

German airline and tourism associations praised Wednesday’s ruling and urged politicians to move ahead with expansion. Lufthansa, which uses Munich as its second largest hub after Frankfurt, welcomed the decision, saying it offered long-term growth.

Bund Naturschutz called on politicians to uphold the popular vote from 2012 and said it would file a complaint with the European Commission for disregard of European laws on nature conservation.

“Neither Bavaria nor Munich needs the third runway. Lufthansa is the only one that will benefit,” Christine Margraf of Bund Naturschutz said in a statement.

Reporting by Victoria Bryan; Editing by Mark Trevelyan