October 31, 2019 / 2:55 PM / 13 days ago

New Lisbon airport gets green light from environment watchdog

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s environmental agency has given the green light for a new airport in Lisbon, but only if the project meets certain conditions, including measures to reduce noise and protect wildlife.

Portugal’s booming tourism industry has complained for years about the lack of capacity at Lisbon’s Portela airport and a new airport at Montijo on the southern bank of the Tagus River was proposed as a hub for low-cost flights.

Plans for a new airport in Lisbon have been under consideration for five decades but the government has said the Montijo airport, where there is already a military air base, should be completed by 2022.

An environmental study, presented by Portugal’s airport authority ANA in July this year, highlighted a threat to wildlife from the new airport as the Tagus estuary is a nature reserve for various birds, including flamingos.

Last year, environmental organization Zero sent a complaint to the European Commission, insisting that a more demanding “strategic” environmental evaluation be carried out before the airport can be built.

In a ruling late on Wednesday, Portugal’s environmental agency gave its final go-ahead for the project on condition that measures are implemented to reduce its environmental impact.

French construction group Vinci, which owns ANA, the operator of Lisbon airport, in January said it would invest 1.15 billion euros ($1.32 billion) in the expansion of Lisbon’s main airport and the construction of the new one.

The entire project will be financed by the private sector, Vinci said when the agreement was announced, but no other companies have been named in connection with it.

The environmental agency, APA, has set out around 200 conditions for the project to “mitigate the negative impacts from the new airport on birdlife, noise and mobility.” These will cost some 48 million euros.

Some of the conditions include sound insulation requirements and restrictions on flights between midnight and 6 a.m.

Vinci’s ANA said in a statement: “ANA will analyze the feasibility, balance and environmental benefit of these measures.”

ANA’s study in July had made the case for the new airport at Montijo as the only viable solution for the Lisbon’s airport capacity issue.

Portugal’s tourism industry has had eight consecutive years of growth, which has helped the country recover from a severe debt crisis and economic recession of 2010-13.

Traffic at Lisbon’s existing airport increased by 8.9% in 2018 to 29 million passengers compared with the year before, according to Vinci.

If the project goes ahead, the new airport, around 25 km (15.5 miles) from Lisbon city center, is set to be one of the largest construction projects in Portugal.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Jane Merriman

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