Two aviation-dependent Red Sea resorts

Two tourism developments on the Red Sea coast, Amaala and the Red Sea Project, will not live up to claims of ecological sustainability. Both resorts will have dedicated airports, sending carbon emissions soaring and hardwiring fossil fuel dependency.

An aerotropolis of sorts, a tourism resort with its own dedicated airport, is emerging on the Red Sea coast of northwestern Saudi Arabia. Amaala is a planned tourism gigaproject covering 4,155 square kilometres of terrain on land and sea, with more than 2,500 hotel rooms and over 800 residential villas. On 26th June renderings for the terminal and control tower of a luxury airport to serve Amaala were unveiled by UK-based Foster + Partners.

Amaala Airport – ‘inspired by the optical illusion of a desert mirage’

Luxury and exclusivity characterise the three main components of Amaala: Triple Bay – a luxury wellness resort and sports facilities including golf, equestrian, polo and falconry; Coastal Development – a cultural district featuring a museum of contemporary arts, film and performance arts venue and a biennial park and The Island – one of the world’s ‘most exclusive enclaves’ featuring botanical gardens, artworks, sculptures and private residences surrounded by landscaping. Amaala aims to attract ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs), specifically targetting the very wealthiest, ‘the top 2.5 million ultra-high net worth individual luxury travellers’. This really is high-end tourism; Amaala’s target market segment is the wealthiest 0.03 per cent of the world’s total population of more than 7.8 billion. The resort will have its own ‘special regulatory structure’ to attract the super-rich.

Taking premium tourism to new heights, Amaala’s own dedicated airport will be as luxurious as the resort. Chief executive of Amaala, Nicholas Naples said: the ‘gateway to Amaala…will be a unique space that personifies luxury and marks the start of memorable experiences for the world’s most discerning guests’. Scheduled to open in 2023, coinciding with opening of the first phase of the resort, Amaala airport will initially serve private jets and charter flights, before expanding to accommodate commercial airlines. When fully complete, by 2028, Amaala Airport terminal, a ‘spacious light filled courtyard’, will have capacity for 1 million passengers per year.

Zero carbon (but what about the flights?)

Listing a mutlitude of ecological features – including an organic farm, utilising biodegradable materials, preventing plastic pollution, protecting iconic species, renewable energy including solar fields, recycling, treating wastewater for use in agriculture – Amaala claims it will ‘set an example for sustainability and eco-conservation in the region’. CEO Nicholas Naples, said ‘energy requirements will be met by using renewable sources, with the entire Amaala development having a zero-carbon footprint’. All these laudable ecological measures will be undermined by the impacts of travel to and from the resort. Amaala will be heavily dependent on aviation; an estimated 80 per cent of visitors will arrive by air. Flying is the most carbon intensive mode of transport and the carbon footprint of travelling by private jet is far higher than comparable journeys by commercial airliner; some estimates quantify the differential at 10 times the amount of carbon per passenger.

Foster + Partners’ design for Amaala Airport, a ‘sleek mirrored edifice’ inspired by ‘the optical illusion of a desert mirage‘, received a lot of publicity. The angular, shiny roof is indeed striking but its just an ostentatious example of superficial architectural flourishes that are typical of airport design, a fancy veneer disguising a functional concrete box. Gerard Evenden of Foster + Partners said: “The passenger experience through the entire building will be akin to a private members club … The design seeks to establish a new model for private terminals that provides a seamless experience from resort to airplane”. Passengers will be enclosed in a bubble sealed off from the real world. Damaging environmental impacts of emissions from private jets will be externalised, inflicted on other people, predominantly the poorest, living elsewhere and in the future. As less privileged people contend with extreme weather private jets owned by UHNWI’s parked at Amaala will be protected from the slightest climactic variation, in climate-controlled hangars.

Architects criticise Amaala Airport

In Architects Journal, Greg Pitcher queried whether Foster + Partners’ involvement with the Amaala airport project aligned with the firm’s carbon reduction pledges, in particular commitment under the Architects Declare banner to ‘evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. Sustainability expert and consultant Simon Sturgis said: ‘These sort of projects suggest that Foster + Partners is still engaged with 20th rather than 21st century thinking … This represents a climate betrayal’. Another consultant, Robert Franklin, weighed in on the Architects Declare movement, describing it as ‘a calculated, cynical insult to anyone who understands the lease nuanced interpretation of sustainable’.

Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN) polled network members asking them about their thoughts on Foster + Partners’ involvement in Amaala Airport. A clear majority opposed the scheme and ACAN wrote an open letter to voice concerns, arguing that architecture practices working to expand aviation goes against pledges to ‘Evaluate all new projects against the aspiration to contribute positively to mitigating climate breakdown’. ACAN also questioned how the airport project could be reconciled with Foster + Partners being a signatory of Architects Declare commitments recognising rapid decarbonisation as a global imperative.

Superyachts and luxury cruises

For those arriving at Amaala by sea there will be facilities for yachts, specifically ‘luxury yachting’. Naples spoke to Superyacht News about Amaala. Explaining that Amaala is part of a ‘yachting strategy for the Red Sea’ whilst acknowledging that while ‘yachting and environmentalism often aren’t seen to go hand-in-hand’ he was ‘confident that the project will be considerate to its surroundings’. Such confidence is unwarranted as travellers on superyachts, luxury vessels with price tags upwards of $100 million, leave ‘oversized personal carbon footprints‘ in their wake. The carbon footprint of one Superyacht, Venus, the result of 51,796 kilometres travelled in 2018, was estimated at 4,571 tonnes. This astonishingly massive figure is 279 times the average Australian citizen’s annual carbon footprint – for all their activities, not just transportation – and 594 times the average Chinese citizen’s carbon footprint.

Amaala will also be a calling point for boutique luxury cruises. Each passenger on board these boats will wield an even larger carbon footprint than the thousands of people crammed on board cheaper vast cruise ships that resemble floating cities. And Amaala’s facilities for arrivals by sea, marinas to accommodate international races and regattas, are likely to have negative environmental impacts on the pristine Red Sea coastal ecosystems. Large concrete structures and air and water pollution from boats could compromise biodiverse ecosystems that provide havens for whales, turtles and healthy coral reefs.

Neom megacity and the Red Sea Project

Amaala is situated between two other developments on the Red Sea coast: Neom megacity to the north and the Red Sea Project to the south. Vivian Nereim and Donna Abu-Nasr reported for Bloomberg on their visit to Neom in July 2019. They explored an eminently desirable setting for development, an area blessed with ‘stunning untouched shorelines with waves rippling in the turquoise water’ against a backdrop of purple volcanic mountains. Residents were uncertain and divided over whether benefits from Neom megacity would accrue to them: ‘Many of the locals who have lived there for years are looking forward to some prosperity, while others are concerned they will be removed and their homes bulldozed.’ Rumours swirled of large-scale resettlement to make way for luxury villas and office complexes and Neom stated that under current estimates more than 20,000 people would be moved. Megaprojects including a ‘huge port’ and a causeway to Egypt were in the works. A small airport serving Neom opened in June 2019.

The massive Red Sea tourism project, comprising resorts on 22 islands and six inland sites, will, like Amaala, be served by its own dedicated airport. In July 2020 infrastructure contracts for Red Sea International Airport were awarded to two Saudi firms: Nesma & Partners Contracting and Almabani General Contractors. And Foster + Partners is also involved in the airport. In July 2019 the firm was awarded the design contract. As with Amaala airport a whimsical architectural facade will evoke the surroundings, ‘the form of the roof shells is inspired by the desert dunes’.

Red Sea International Airport, serving 1 million passengers per year. ‘Eco-friendly and sustainable design’.

Although not built for private jets the ‘design of the terminal aims to bring the experience of a private aircraft terminal to every traveller by providing smaller, intimate spaces that feel luxurious and personalised’. Visitors will be funnelled from the airport to the resort via ‘an immersive experience of the highlights at the resort’ in a Welcome Centre and ‘departure pods’ with spas and restaurants. Red Sea International Airport’s projected number of air passengers is identical to Amaala airport: 1 million per year. And the emphasis on environmental policies, such as zero waste-to-landfill and ban on single-use plastics, is similar to Amaala. Red Sea Project developers ‘want it to become one of the world’s most succussful sustainable tourist resorts’. Visitors will be given personal carbon footprint trackers to encourage them to think about sustainability. If these trackers were to include flights visitors would see their carbon emissions exceeding that of the majority of the worlds’ people who have never flown, before they even step off the plane into the luxury terminal.

A New Civil Engineer article, proclaiming the airport to be ‘eco-friendly‘, states that ‘the entire infrastructure of the Red Sea Project, including its transport network, will be powered by 100% renewable energy’. Conversion of transportation systems is one of the most difficult aspects of transition to renewable energy. Flights powered by renewable energy are not even remotely on the horizon. Much-hyped biofuels only provide a minute proportion of aviation fuel, just 0.01 per cent. Scaling up aviation biofuel production would destroy forests and other ecosystems and trigger land grabbing for plantations. Many airports have installed solar panels on unused land surrounding runways, providing a proportion of the power requirements for ground operations. But solar flight is a distant dream. The only solar-powered planes to successfully fly long distances, Solar Impulse 1 and 2, carry just one or two people at speeds rarely reaching 100 kilometres per hour.

Like Amaala, Neom and the Red Sea Project are supported by the Public Investment Fund KSA (PIF), Saudi Arabia’s sovereign fund, and all three projects are part of the Saudi Vision 2030 programme. Spanning various sectors including tourism, real estate and entertainment Saudi Vision 2030 aims to diversify the economy away from dependency upon oil. Tourism is a prominent sectoral focus, anticipated to increase from the current 3 per cent of gross domestic product to 10 per cent by 2030. Yet Amaala and the Red Sea Project, flagship tourism developments, are heading in the opposite direction from reducing dependency on oil. Dedicated airports serving these two resorts might not draw upon Saudi Arabia’s depleting oil deposits. But both facilities will require prodigious amounts of oil extracted from somewhere.

NAINA (Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area) shrinks and fragments

A plan for a major city extending over up to 600 square kilometres around a new airport in Navi Mumbai diverges from the aerotopolis model of development; the land area and number of villages included in the jurisdiction has reduced.

NAINA (Navi Mumbai Airport Influence Notified Area) originated when the Indian government granted clearance for a second Mumbai airport, in Navi Mumbai. One of the conditions for approval of the new airport was ‘that the Master Plan, Development Plan of Navi Mumbai shall be revised and recast in view of the Airport development and to avoid unplanned haphazard growth around the proposed airport’. Factors considered in assessment of the Influence Zone around the new airport included ‘the requirements of International Airport as per the aerotropolis concept’, connectivity and operation of various planning authorities in the region. Appointment of a ‘Planning Authority for a Planned and orderly development within a radial distance of about 25km from the proposed International Airport site’ was deemed necessary. On 10th January 2013 City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO) was appointed as the Special Planning Authority.

Map of NAINA (Navi Mumbai Airport Notified Area), 2013
Map of NAINA, CIDCO, 10th January 2013

Even at this stage it was evident that NAINA (the pink shaded areas on the map) diverged from the aerotropolis model of development.  The designated NAINA area was fragmented and not even contiguous with the Navi Mumbai International Airport site (shown on the map as an orange rectangular area to the west of NAINA). The new jurisdiction, encompassing 270 villages in six talukas in the Raigad and Thane districts, a mix of peri-urban and rural areas, was not the recilinear greenfield site of an archetypal aerotropolis.

A large land area was designated for NAINA, estimated at between 550 and 600 square kilometres (1.5 times larger than the city of Mumbai). Inception of NAINA transferred planning powers to CIDCO; notification specified that all proposals for development permission would henceforth be processed by CIDCO. Land acquisition for the initial phase met with opposition. In 2014, while a survey was being undertaken, residents of the 23 villages notified for development in phase 1 of NAINA (to the east of the Navi Mumbai International Airport site) voiced strong objection saying they were not informed about the project which would adversely affect agriculture, their main source of income.

A spokesperson for the 23 villages said people did not trust CIDCO because farmers who lost their land in the 1970s, for development of Navi Mumbai city, had still not been compensated. Affected families had been promised employment but many were still doing odd jobs to make ends meet. Villagers also raised objections to CIDCO’s practice of providing information in English, a language most of them did not understand. A hearing was rocked by protest and villagers claimed that developers’ land was being treated preferentially, left untouched while theirs was earmarked for public utility purposes.

Map of 23 villages in NAINA phase 1. Source: Navi Mumbai International Airport – Unofficial, 10th February 2015

A rural tabula rasa and highway urbanisation

In an article published in Economic & Political WeeklyFragmentary Planning and Spaced of Opportunity in Peri-urban Mumbai‘ Malini Krishnankutty describes how the Interim Development Plan (IDP) prepared for the first phase of NAINA, encompassing 23 villages, ‘reinforces the planners’ lack of deep engagement with the rural’. NAINA’s role of amassing land for implementation of its master plan exemplified modern urban planning’s disregard for rural areas. Such planning interventions viewed land merely as a resource, the rural as a ‘tabula rasa’ destined for urban development, villages from ‘the narrow perspective of providing very specific social amenities or transport infrastructure’, thus rural villagers and their ways of life were rendered invisible. With regard to NAINA she writes:

‘Once again what is visible here is a superimposition of a vision of a city on these villages, a view of urbanisation that is a foregone conclusion, and a lack of engagement with the future of the villagers, once they are divorced from their lands and livelihoods. There is also no engagement of planners with any idea of conservation, tangible or intangible or of productive farmlands’.

NAINA’s proximity to the Navi Mumbai International Airport site had given impetus to speculative interest in the area. The airport and several major road and rail projects in the pipeline – Mumbai Trans Harbour Link (MTHL), Delhi-Mumbai Insustrial Corridor (DMIC) and a road + rail corridor extending from Virar to Alibaug linking peri-urban regions in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) – all require land acquisition by the government that ‘inevitably means dispossession and loss of livelihoods’. In addition these infrastructure projects activate the ‘highway urbanisation’ that is prevalent throught India and the global south. Announcement of new infrastructure triggers commodification of land, opening up rural areas for urban development.

During June, July and August 2015 journalist Rahul Batia travelled along the path of the Virar – Alibaug road and rail corridor running through NAINA, talking with people affected by land acquisition for the project. The route of the road, a transportation corridor 126 kilometres in length and 120 metres wide, stretches from the city of Virar to the north of Navi Mumbai, running southwards through NAINA then curving easwards to the coastal town of Alibaug. On the interim development plan the transportation corridor appeared as ‘a thick white strip snaking through residential areas, growth centres, forests, and urban villages’. Twelve kilometres of the road were within NAINA phase 1 and impacts upon the 23 villages within this area loomed.

NAINA map showing route of road through Nere and other villages
NAINA map showing route of road through Nere and other villages. Source: cidco naina

The poorest locals were the most perturbed by the ‘corridor of uncertainty’, believing it would ‘hit them hardest’; some were convinced that they had been ‘singled out for some kind of punishment’. There were allegations that the route being marked out for the road curved to avoid homes and land owned by rich and influential residents. Adivasis at a hamlet in Nere, one of the affected villages, came across a mark painted into an approach road and thought it was connected with the new transport corridor. The sarpanch (head of village) of Nere knew little about the road except that people would be relocated to make way for it, and did not know where they would go to. He had not seen the map of NAINA. Pointing out a notice with a yellow diagonal stripe marked ‘CH 51554’ he said, “They came here, made markings, and left. Nobody told us anything.” Inhabitants of the 23 villages in the first phase of NAINA lived in uneasy uncertainty. NAINA officials were holding consultations but many affected residents complained of a ‘disconcerting lack of information available about exactly what shape NAINA will take’ and said that rates for people wanting to build on their land were ‘exhorbitant’.

Opposition to land-pooling scheme

Unrest over NAINA plans continued into in 2016. In February farmers of 111 villages opposing NAINA united to form a committee, Shektari Utkarsh Samiti, and marched from Khargar to Panvel. They voiced many demands for changes to NAINA policy, including that the amount of their land to be given to CIDCO under the land pooling scheme, whereby groups of land owners hand over their land to a government agency for development of infrastructure, with a proportion of the land being returned to the landowners, be decreased from 40 per cent to 30 per cent. In September representatives of 36 villages in the Panvel taluka (administrative district) immediately to the east of the Navi Mumbai International Airport site, said they did not want to be part of NAINA and wished to be excluded from the plans and instead be included in the Panvel municipality. Together these villages cover 69.6 square kilometres, a substantial proportion of the total NAINA area.

Rajendra Patil, a representative of one of the villages, Kolkhe, said that waiting for finalization of NAINA plans had stalled development in their villages, and that the development model was tilted in favour of big developers whilst working against the interests of local farmers. Anesh Dawale, a former head of Shivkar village, said of NAINA’s land pooling scheme: “It is just a garb to release farm lands held by villagers to the builder lobby”. In particular, local people were of the view that the minimum land pooling norm of 18 acres favoured construction magnates. Dawale also said that the curbing of village council powers under NAINA had a negative impact on civic services, a view shared by Panvel’s MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly), Prashant Thakur.

In December 2016 it was reported that 14 villages on the outskirts of Navi Mumbai and included in NAINA feared losing their land due to the project. Community representatives said that authorities were reserving plots of land without consulting local people and that inclusion in NAINA was blocking development in their villages, in contrast with surrounding areas that were flourishing. The 14 villages repeated demands first made in July 2015 to be merged with the civic body NMMC (Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation) instead.

NAINA area reduced

NAINA was described as ‘potentially the biggest smart city in India‘ at approximately 600 square kilometres in November 2014 but by May 2016 CIDCO appeared to favour polycentric urbanisation, in the form of ‘30 smart cities‘, Special Economic Zones and growth centres. CIDCO officials estimated that, in its initial years of operation, the new airport would handle two to three million passengers, a fraction of the widely publicised projection of 20 million passengers per year in the first phase, rising to 90 million when expanded to full capacity. By July 2017 many parcels of land in the 1st phase of NAINA had not been acquired due to opposition from villagers. The state urban development department had approved development of the 23 villages three months previously but the development plan was still not publicly available.

NAINA Modified Draft Development Plan, September 2017
Map of NAINA, reduced to 474 sq km, September 2017. Source: CIDCO

CIDCO’s Modified Draft Development Plan for NAINA, published in September 2017, anticipates an inflow of passengers from the new airport, but there is no mention of mulitiple millions of passengers annually. The plan does not include the aviation-dependent tourism or freight facilities that form the mainstay of an aerotropolis. The plan details a substantial reduction in NAINA’s footprint and a map shows further fragmentation of the designated areas. Several villages were transferred to other jurisdictions, becoming part of Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited (MSRDC – a development plan for the area along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway), Matheran Eco-Sensitive zone (MESC) and Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC). Thus the number of villages incorporated in the NAINA plan decreased to 224 and the land area was reduced to 474 square kilometres. 

The voluntary land-pooling scheme was causing delays, so, in April 2018, at the request of CIDCO, the state government moved to fast-track the NAINA project by way of invoking town planning scheme (TPS) provisions for compulsory participation of villagers residing in areas encompassed in the development plan. Participation in the project was made compulsory for the 23 villages in Phase 1 of NAINA. A draft plan for this 37 square kilometre pilot area was published, giving villagers just 30 days to make suggestions and objections, enabling CIDCO tosanction the scheme in three months. CIDCO also moved to expedite road building, using a fast-track TPS process, allowing a total of 21 months from announcement to execution.

Diverting water to NAINA

NAINA will take up water as well as land. CIDCO’s September 2017 Modified Draft Development Plan for NAINA calculates NAINA phase 1 water demands to be 8.33 MLD (millions of litres per day) in 2021, rising to 29.75 MLD by 2031 then reaching 45.07 MLD by 2041. New sources of water are anticipated to meet the increasing demands of NAINA and other CIDCO projects: the Balganga dam from which 150 MLD would be available for NAINA and Khopta Area (another CIDCO project) and the proposed Kondhane dam from which CIDCO expects to receive 250 MLD. The state transferred the Kondhane dam project from the water resources department to CIDCO in August 2017. The dam will draw water from the Ulhas river.

Shortage of water supplies is a perennial problem in many areas of Mumbai. In 2018 water scarcity was exacerbated by construction activity for Navi Mumbai Airport, which put pressure on water supplies impacting on surrounding communities, including those within NAINA. By May 2018 Panvel had been suffering a severe water crisis for three months. Every summer water scarcity forced residents to rely on water tankers. But in 2018 the situation was more serious. Many areas in Panvel were only receiving water on alternate days. Villages under NAINA were only getting water every three or four days. A resident of Khanda colony, Vishnu Gavali, filed a public interest litigation (PIL) requesting the court to direct civic authorities to resolve the issue. The PIL states that, under the constitution, all citizens have the right to food, water and a decent environment, and that CIDCO was failing in its duty to provide basic amenities. Gavali said “As airport work has started, a lot of water is being used for the construction activities but sadly, the locals have been neglected.” A resident of Roadpali said “Cidco has given permissions for so many upcoming projects in the city, I don’t understand how they would fulfill water needs of so many projects.”

In March 2019 residents of Panvel gathered near the CIDCO water tank premises in protest over poor and erratic water supplies, denying their fundamental rights to a basic amenity. Leader of the delegation, Apoorva Prabhu, said they had suffered water scarcity for six months and were requesting regular water supplies of least two hours daily. In September 2019, with many areas facing water shortages, CIDCO took measures to ensure that NAINA would not be affected by the water crisis. A detailed project report (DPR) on Kondhane dam, to help ensure adequate water for NAINA, was expected to be completed within a year and revive the project.

Objections to NAINA plans

On 28th June 2019 the Times of India reported that the urban development department would publish the final approved plans for NAINA and Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation Limited MSRDC after the monsoon season. Citizens demanded the government publish the report of the planning committee on the objections and suggestions made by the public in order for there to be transparency over whether or not these concerns raised were addressed or not. Pankaj Joshi, architect and executive director of the Urban Design Institute said “Objections were raised to the government proposing industries in green zones in the metropolitan regional plan. The entire green belt will become brown if it is approved.”

Map of NAINA September 2019, area shrunk to 371 sq km.
Map of NAINA September 2019, area shrunk to 371 sq km. Source: Times of India

By September 2019 NAINA, promoted as India’s largest planned city in 2014, had shrunk to just over half its original size. The plan for a new city, spread over up to 600 square kilometres of land, had shrunk substantially, now occupying a 371 square kilometre plot. The map indicated further fragmentation of the NAINA area and the number of villages incorporated in the plan had reduced from 270 to 175. The most recent government notification granted sanction for the development plan for the remaining 152 villages covering 334 square kilometres, along with the 23 villages included in the 37 square kilometres allocated for phase 1.

Unrest among farmers affected by land acquisition for NAINA was reported again in January 2020. A protest against CIDCO had already taken place and farmers were planning further agitation. Several local leaders were raising their voices against the scheme. By 17th March CIDCO was reportedly ‘going ahead aggressively’ with implementation of NAINA, in the face of unrest by impacted people. About 10,000 farmers from the 23 villages of the first phase of NAINA were planning a demonstration. The farmers alleged that the town planning scheme was not beneficial to them and demanded a review. Vaman Shelke of NAINA Prakalpbadhit Shetkari Utkarsh Committee (NPSUC) said they were given notice if carrying out any construction work on their land, leaving them with no option but to accept the scheme. “This is a participatory scheme and we cannot be forced to join” said Shelke, explaining that farmers were demanding return of 50 per cent of developed land under the land pooling scheme instead of 40 per cent, along with additional benefits for loss of their agricultural land.

Map of Airport-related Injustice and Resistance, an introduction

Around the world communities are opposing new airports, expansion of existing airports and aerotropolis/airport city developments. A total of 67 cases have now been documented and are published on the Global map of aviation-related socio-environmental conflicts. Several cases and some of the emerging themes are outlined in this short introductory video. The map is a joint project of EnvJustice and the Stay Grounded Network.

Links to airport conflict cases mentioned in video:

Aerotropolis 2020: Visions vs Realities

Since 2006, John Kasarda, the most prominent proponent of aerotropolis developments, has published a plethora of articles extolling the supposed benefits of these megaprojects. The series begins with: Airport Cities and the Aerotropolis. In subsequent publications the same examples of aerotropolis-type projects crop up repeatedly, such as Schiphol, Frankfurt, Munich, Stockholm Arlanda in Europe, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Changi and Incheon in Asia, McCarran and Dallas/Fort Worth in the USA. Over the years some of the ambitious aerotropolis plans have been realised. Others are repeatedly stalled, in spite of heavy-handed intervention of governments designating large land areas and bestowing sweeping planning powers on airport-developer partnerships.

In the early months of 2020 Kasarda’s two-part global review of aerotropolis developments was published in Airport World, the magazine of Airports Council International (ACI), the global trade representative of the world’s airports. Part 1 Aerotropolis business magnets covers the Asia-Pacific region. Airports’ prodigious land ownership is emphasised in the second paragraph framing the aerotropolises featured in the article: ‘Airports themselves frequently contain thousands of acres of commerical real estate’.

Kasarda writes that China is ‘leading the way’. Airport-centric projects in China are indeed gargantuan. Beijing Capital Airport, ‘corner-stoned by its airport city logistics park (ACLP)’, is part of the 178 square kilometre Beijing Airport Core Economy Zone (BACEZ). Baiyun Airport provided a starting point for the city of Guangzhou’s aerotropolis development. This proved ‘slow to materialise due to inability to align local jurisdictions’, until the 116 square kilometre cross-jurisdictional Guangzhou Aerotropolis Development District (GADD) was established in September 2015. Zhengzhou Airport Economy Zone (ZAEZ) centred around Zhengzhou Xinzheng Airport is even larger, spanning 415 square kilometres.

Looking beyond China Kasarda highlights Incheon Airport, the main airport of Seoul, South Korea’s capital city, with ‘substantial commercial real estate development on its vast property’ filled with office complexes, hotels, resorts and logistics zones. Outside the airport fence development of the ‘greater aerotropolis’ is fostered by Incheon Free Zone extending over 209 square kilometres. In Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur Airport, KLIA Aeropolis is ‘expansive’, covering 100 square kilometres. But full development on an expansive land bank remains largely on the drawing board. KLIA Aeropolis is still ‘focussed on implementing plans’, even though a Kuala Lumpur airport city is hailed Kasarda’s aforementioned 2006 article as exemplifying ‘the new model of international airport development and management’. In India, Hyderabad Airport is ‘executing a theme-based airport city master plan consisting of six major commerical clusters… its 1,500 acre airport city includes a multi-produce special economic zone’. A grandiose sounding but more nebulous ‘greater Hyderabad Aerotropolis’ extends 10-20 kilometres outwards from the airport and is ‘dominated by IT and other high-tech, aviation-oriented sectors’.

A more recently conceived project is Western Sydney Aerotropolis. Plans were completed in 2019 and authorities have stepped in to fund the requisite surface transport links; the project is ‘backed by huge financial commitments by the central government for connecting rail and highway infrastructure’. In Thailand aerotropolis development is extending outward from U-Tapao Airport, a former US air base, and is a component of a much larger megaproject, the Eastern Economic Corridor (a special economic zone encompassing three provinces). In the Philippines investment in aerotropolis development at Clark Airport, another former US air base, is reported.

Over the years Kasarda began to acknowledge opposition to aerotropolis project from communities directly affected, by displacement due to land acquisition and negative environmental impacts. The 2020 article mentions that construction of another aerotropolis in the Philippines, in Bulacan, has been impeded by opposition to the environmental impacts, protests by fishermen. (Pamalakaya – National Federation of Small Fisherfolk Organization in the Philippines – is opposing the ‘undemocratic and unscientific’ Bulacan Aerotropolis project which would be ‘detrimental to the marine environment of Manila Bay’). Another example is the 4,500 hectare Taoyuan Aerotropolis in Taiwan (referred to by Kasarda as ‘Chinese Taipei’). Development was slowed down by protests over expropriation of farmland (see 2014 Ecologist article) but apparently concerns are being addressed by government bodies aiming to ‘jump start’ the government’s ‘flagship project’.

Part 2, Aerotropolis englines beyond Asia, looks at developments in Europe, the Americas, Africa and the Middle East. In France, Charles de Gaulle Airport has 1,340 hectares ‘dedicated to non-aeronautical development’ of which 600 hectares is already occupied by hotels, offices, retail and distribution facilities. This is the ‘epicentre’ of larger aerotropolis development around two airports: the Charles de Gaulle-Le Bourget Airport Area covers 420 square kilometres. Already there are 17 logistics parks, 85 business parks and two exhibition and convention complexes, along with 12,000 hotel rooms, in this area, described as ‘among the world’s fastest developing aerotropolises’. In Finland, a 42 square kilometre ‘Aviapolis’ is being developed around Helsinki Airport, enabled by a PPP (public-private partnership) between the city of Vantaa, airport operator Finavia and local landowners. Aviapolis already hosts 2,000 companies, a hotel cluster and ‘jumbo’ shopping centre.

Frankfurt Airport City contains the hotels, shops, restaurants, offices, leisure and exhibition facilities that are ubiquitous to airport-centric urbanism. Key components include Gateway Gardens (so heavily built up that there is little of the green space people might expect from this appellation) and the 75 hectare Mönchhof Logistics Park. The large footprint of the development area is highlighted, Mönchhof is ‘reputedly the largest contiguous block of logistically zoned land being constructed in the Rhine-Main region’. Munich Airport is ‘developing a future-oriented innovation campus on 500,000sqm of land’. No surprise at this description, such developments are never hailed as backward-looking and imitative.

Aerotropolis development in the US is characterised by allocation of large areas of land for airport-linked development. Dallas/Fort Worth Airport covers nearly 69 square kilometres and at this juncture 2,428 hectares of airport property designated for commerce and industry has been developed, most recently a business park and a 223,000 square metre Amazon ‘fulfillment centre’. At 137 square kilometers Denver Airport’s site is even larger, containing ‘vast expanses of open land’ for aerotropolis development. After a decade of inactivity airport-centric development in the Detroit Region has been galvanised by support from the Aerotropolis Detroit Region Aerotropolis Development Corporation, which ‘mobilised fiscal resources to promote 60,000 developable acres’ around Detroit Metro Airport.

No details are given about what is actually happening at Alberta, Edmonton and Vancouver airports, stated to be ‘at the forefront’ of aerotropolis development in Canada. Another major aerotropolis is planned around the proposed new airport in Pickering, but this airport is long-delayed as ‘environmentalists still fight the project’ (opposition to this airport, taking up a vast area of productive farmland, has been led by Land Over Landings since 2005). Aerotropolis development at Tocumen Airport in Panama, and Belo Horizonte Airport in Brazil has been impeded by ‘political and economic disruptions’. Contractors involved in construction of the New Mexico City Airport, cancelled in 2018, benefitted from $4.5 billion in compensation awarded by Mexico City’s airport authority.

In South Africa, an airport city at Johannesburg Airport consisting of three commercial precincts is reported to be ‘forming’, based on a 2015 master plan for a 30 kilometre radius around the airport. A large area is earmarked for Durban Aerotropolis, centred upon King Shaka International Airport (KSIA); ‘about 8,000 developable hectares radiate from KSIA’. But as of 2019 development was still a the ‘planned’ stage, 4,200 hectares of commercial development and over 130,000 residential units.

Several Middle East countries have ‘stated ambitions to develop airport cities at their primary air gateways and aerotropolises around them’, including Abu Dhabi, Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar. Only Dubai ‘followed through and went big’. Terminal 3 – encompassing duty-free shops, hotels and leisure facilities – itself constitutes an airport city and there is also a substantial Free Zone comprising distribution centres, offices, light manfacturing and a temperature-controlled centre for perishable cargo.

Dubai’s second airport, Al Maktoum, opened in 2013, was intended to ‘anchor’ a gigantic 145 square kilometer aerotropolis called Dubai South. There are elaborate plans for ‘eight surrounding aerotropolis districts focusing on Aviation Industry, Logisitcs, Residential, Golf, Commerical, Humanitarian, and Exhibition (World Expo 2020 for instance) functions plus Dubai Business Park’ around what was anticipated to become the world’s busiest airport. By 2019 1,200 firms were located at Dubai South but further development, dependent upon plans to shift much of Dubai Airport’s traffic to Al Maktoum, is ‘likely to be impacted’ due to declining growth of Emirates Airline’s passenger traffic. Al Maktoum Airport is a long way from becoming the world’s busiest airport. By 2019 the mega airport had capacity to handle 26.5 million passengers per year but after handling less than 1 million passengers in 2018 had ‘very limited traffic’ except for ‘quite a few cargo planes’.

Al Maktoum Airport and Dubai South were well-positioned to play a key role in World Expo 2020. Then came the coronvirus pandemic. World Expo 2020 and similar global events were cancelled and the aviation industry spiralled downwards in an unprecendented collapse. According to the strapline Part 2 of Kasarda’s 2020 aerotropolis status report ‘considers the implications of the coronavidus pandemic on aviation and future development’. The dramatic reduction in air traffic, plummeting by as much as 90 per cent in April 2020 compared to the previous year, is noted and he acknowledges ‘near empty passenger terminals and investment in commercial zones surrounding airports stalling, coming to a ‘virtual standstill’. Yet Kasarda predicts resumption of aviation growth, with air traffic ‘rebounding in the years afterwards to new heights’ and foresees ‘airport cities and their greater aerotropolises taking on ever more importance’.

Kasarda’s confidence that the ‘long term growth trends’ of airports and the aerotropolis will resume in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, as was seen after the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak in 2003, is unwarranted. SARS affected 26 countries, resulting in over 8,000 cases and 800 deaths. SARS was contained and effectively eradicated. At the time of writing the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached 5,593,631 and 353,334 people are known to have died from the disease. Only a few countries have not yet reported any coronavirus cases. The number of infections and deaths is on a frightening upward trajectory and the ‘resolutions of the coronavirus pandemic’ Kasarda assumes will occur are not yet on the horizon.

Six aerotropolis-type projects added to socio-environmental conflicts map

Six more aerotropolis-type developments have been added to the Global Map of Aviation-Related Socio-Environmental Conflicts. All the projects – in the USA, Canada, Jamaica, India and China – have met with opposition from affected communities and/or environmental groups. In each case the site, or proposed site, covers a large land area. Launched in July 2019, the map is a joint project by the EnvJustice project and the Stay Grounded network. There are now 67 cases on the map. The new aerotropolis-type additions are listed below. Please click on the links to read the case reports which contain a wealth of information on the environmental and social justice impacts of the aerotropolis projects, the government bodies and firms that are responsible and how affected communities are fighting for their rights.

Northwest Florida Beaches Airport

In the USA, a private landowner stands to benefit from industrial, defence, retail and hotel development on land it owns around Northwest Florida Beaches Airport. Construction of the airport, located in the midst of forested wetlands providing a haven for black bears, red-cockaded woodpeckers and the endangered gopher tortoise, caused a decline in in spite of six environmental lawsuits. After the airport opened in 2010 a 404 hectare ‘airport city’ began taking shape on adjacent land. In December 2019 the landowner broke ground on a hotel next to the airport.

Northwest Florida Beaches Airport - aerial view
Aerial view of Northwest Florida Beaches Airport. Photo: Airport of the World, 25th May 2010 https://airportsworld.keypublishing.com/2010/05/25/first-new-us-airport-in-15-years/

Eastgate Air Cargo Facility

In California, a massive air cargo project, Eastgate Air Cargo Facility, is planned in San Bernardino, an area where residents already suffer health problems caused by high levels of air pollution from a concentration of logistics traffic. The site is 41 hectares and the project also entails new taxiways and an aircraft parking apron at San Bernardino Airport, construction of new driveways to the project site and two bridges. Hundreds of people have attended a church gathering and a hearing on the project. Workers, community and environmental groups, united under the banner SB Airport Communities, are campaigning for a ‘community benefit agreements guaranteeing well-paid, secure jobs along with measures to limit air pollution’.

Eastgate Air Cargo Facility, residents at FAA hearing
On 8th August 2019 hundreds of residents contributed their comments at Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) hearing on the air cargo project. Photo: Manny B Sandoval. Source: Inland Empire Community News http://iecn.com/hundreds-of-san-bernardino-residents-speak-out-at-faa-hearing-on-air-cargo-logistics-project-eastgate/

Hamilton Aerotropolis / AEGD

In Ontario, Canada, groundbreaking for Hamilton Aerotropolis, identified by authorities as a strategic priority in 2005 and subsequently re-named Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD), has commenced. A 555 hectare area of productive farmland around Hamilton Airport has been allocated to the project, which was approved in spite of local opposition, over many issues including the costs to taxpayers and availability of alternative sites on brownfield land, sustained over a long period.

Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) land use and infrastructure plan
Airport Employment Growth District (AEGD) land use and infrastructure plan. Image: City of Hamilton Airport Employment Growth District, Transportation Master Plan Implementation Update https://d3fpllf1m7bbt3.cloudfront.net/sites/default/files/media/browser/2017-08-04/aegd-update-transportation-assessment-report-2017.pdf

Vernamfield Aerotropolis and Logistics Hub project

In Jamaica communities are concerned they may face forcible eviction for the proposed Vernamfield Aerotropolis. A letter sent to residents in December 2019 gave residents the impression that the “stage had been set for a massive land grab”. The total site area is 2,428 hectares of land, some of which is among the most fertile in the country and had been used to cultivate sugarcane, is a key component of a broader Logistics Hub plan which spans the southeast coast of the island.

Vernamfield Air Cargo Logistics Facility, architect's impression
Vernamfield Aerotropolis is a key component of the Jamaica Logistics Hub project. Image: Jamaica Logistics Hub, 9th February 2016 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3v5hWd9tcLc

Shivdaspura Aero City

In the Jaipur District of Rajasthan, Northern India, residents of 20 villages have organized major protests against plans for an aerotropolis-type development called Shivdaspura Aero City, a ‘greenfield airport’ (on undeveloped land) along with hotels, shopping malls, cinemas, restaurants and a cargo hub. A series of protests by farmers affected by land acquisition began in January 2018. Landholders say they have been left in lurch” unable to develop or sell their land. The site is about 2,100 hectares and approximately 80,000 people are affected by land acquisition.

Protest against Shivdaspura airport project
January 2018 protest against Shivdsapura greenfield airport. Photo: Patrika https://www.patrika.com/jaipur-news/farmers-and-residents-warned-govt-on-greenfield-airport-project-2179532/

Sanya Hongtangwan International Airport, Hainan, China

Scheduled to cover an area of 26 square kilometers on an artificial island Sanya Hongtangwan International Airport is expected to be a gateway to Southeast Asia and the South China Sea. In addition to the airport and to support its operations an aviation economic zone, seaport operation area, international aviation CBD (central business district) and industrial zone will be built. Environmental activists raised concerns over damage to wildlife including coral reefs and Chinese white dolphins, listed as ‘vulnerable’ in the on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. They achieved a partial victory, halting the airport island reclamation project for more than two years.

Illustration of the proposed new Sanya airport.
Illustration of the proposed new Sanya airport. Image: Handout. Source: South China Morning Post https://www.scmp.com/news/china/economy/article/2119921/china-puts-massive-island-airport-project-hold-over-environmental

 

New report – DeGrowth of Aviation

DeGrowth of Aviation report - cover

On 2nd December 2019, the first day of the COP25 international climate summit in Madrid, Spain, an important new report was published. Degrowth of Aviation: Reducing Air Travel in a Just Way, examines a range of possible policy instruments and strategies for degrowing (contracting) the aviation sector. This is increasingly urgent as the climate and other negative impacts of aviation are set to escalate with as many as 1,200 infrastructure projects – new airport and expansion of existing airports – underway and planned. The report is based on a flight-free conference involving 150 participants attending in person and online, held in Barcelona in July 2019, along with subsequent discussions.

In marked contrast to a plethora of articles exhorting an undefined, generalized “we” to reduce flying the report is cognizant of the global context; only about 10 per cent of the world’s people, predominantly residing in the Global North, have ever taken a flight. Within this small proportion of air travellers is an even smaller minority of wealthy, hypermobile frequent flyers. The first chapter, Reducing Emissions, critiques and dismisses illusory ‘solutions’ of biofuels and offsetting (whereby airlines claim to reduce emissions by buying carbon credits) and the purported technofix of electrically powered aircraft. Biophysical reality necessitates degrowth of the aviation sector.

The second chapter calls for elimination of tax exemptions, specifically on aviation fuel (kerosene), air tickets and VAT (value added tax), which enables aviation growth and subsequent environmental damage. Taxing aviation would boost the competitiveness of surface transport (road, rail and ship) and the resulting income stream could be used to support more sustainable transport. Chapter 3 looks at the potential of a frequent flyer levy or air miles levy to address the injustice of astonishingly high emissions from a tiny minority of frequent flyers, recognizing the complexities of tackling aeromobility inequalities within and between nations. Setting limits of aviation/flights is considered in chapter 4, focusing on capping or ending short-haul flights where alternative options exist, a measure which could constitute ‘low hanging fruit’ in climate mitigation and might lead to closure of many regional airports.

Map - Aviation related conflicts
Map of aviation related conflicts. Image credit: Judith Holzer, Stay Grounded

Chapter 5 proposes drawing a ‘Red Line for Airports’, a moratorium on new infrastructure and possibly scaling down established facilities. Hundreds of new airports and expansions of existing airports are planned and underway, many involving land acquisition resulting in displacement of entire communities. A Map of Airport Conflicts. shows more than 60 cases which have been documented and analyzed along with 300 cases which merit further investigation. Several of these airport projects are aerotropolis-type developments. Resistance against airport projects necessitates global networking, in order to avoid ‘nimby’ arguments confined to negative impacts on local communities; global solidarity spurs deeper socio-economic transformation. A number of examples of judicial processes which have successfully stopped or stalled airport projects are outlined: in Germany, France, Mexico, Bangladesh, Thailand and the US.

Chapter 6, Fostering Alternatives, looks at improving alternatives to flying, i.e. surface transportation, specifically shipping and rail. Decelerated societies, along the lines of the Slow Food movement, might be part of the solution and a comparable Slow Travel movement is emerging. The report cautions against uncritical advocacy of high-speed rail which is energy intensive, expensive and requires large areas of land. Similarly, expansion of shipping is not, in itself, wholly positive as emissions are growing and there is a high level of pollution from the heavy oil that is used. Alternative propulsion, not using fossil fuels, is already operational for some small ferries and some examples of ships powered by wind, solar and hydrogen are listed. A shift towards slower travel and surface transport could work synergistically with improvements in and increased uptake of video-conferencing technology.

Chapter 7 examines changes in the travel policies of institutions: academic and research organizations along with municipalities, cultural, public and business organizations. Flights are the largest contributor to many of such organizations’ carbon footprints so action on this issue offers the opportunity to become climate leaders. Telephone and online conferences can bring a major reduction in travel for work. In addition to obviating the need to travel through use of videoconferencing and other technologies organizations can take measures to reduce emissions from travel, such as encouraging train journeys as an alternative to flights, allowing more time for this travel which can be used for work projects.

Each of the chapters consider obstacles and disadvantages for the proposals, opening up future debate and discussions and a final chapter summarizes the report. Visit the Stay Grounded website to view and download the in-depth 52 page report along with a briefing paper, chapter summaries and illustrations. There is also a short video introducing the report, featuring some of the participants in the July 2019 DeGrowth of Aviation conference.

Global map of aviation-related socio-environmental conflicts and justice movements

A global map of socio-environmental conflicts and justice movements related to aviation-related projects includes 60 cases that have already been analyzed. The map provides a wealth of information on how people and the environment can be negatively impacted by new airports and expansion of existing airports. Affected communities contend with a multitude of injustices: eviction, land dispossession, loss of farmland and fishing grounds, destruction of ecosystems, construction work impacts and health damage from aircraft pollution and noise once airport projects become operational. More than 300 such cases around the world have been registered in the research project, conducted by the EnvJustice project of the Environmental Science and Technology Institute at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona) ICTA-UAB and the Stay Grounded network.

Global map of aviation-related conflicts and environmental justice movements produced by The EnvJustice project of the Environmental Science and Technology Institute at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (Autonomous University of Barcelona) ICTA-UAB and the Stay Grounded network
Map of aviation-related conflicts and environmental justice movements around the world

Several aerotropolis or airport city projects, i.e. substantial commercial and/or industrial development constructed or planned on land surrounding or adjoining an airport, are documented and analyzed. Examples include Kertajati Airport and New Yogyakarta International Airport in Indonesia, both of which involved forcible eviction of communities from several villages from their homes and farmlands. In Cambodia, the government has approved a plan for a new Phnom Penh Airport, one of the world’s largest airports by land area, along with an associated ‘airport city’. The proposed site, predominantly agricultural land, encompasses land that Kandal Stueng villages have resided on for two decades, including communally held wetlands. About 2,000 families could be affected and hundreds of people have protested against the development.

In India, Andal Aerotropolis is a private airport city development that was stalled by sharecroppers protesting delays in receiving compensation for land taken for the project. Landowners from seven villages in Purandar sustained resistance against loss of their homes and farmland for a new airport since the location of the project was announced in 2016. Then in 2018 it was reported that the state government was forming a consortium to drive investment in an ‘airport city’ around the airport. Villagers’ resistance against displacement from their farmland for Bhogapuram Aerotropolis, also referred to as an ‘aerocity’, succeeded in reducing the land area allocated to the project from 6,000 hectares to 1,122 hectares, along with securing higher compensation for a group of farmers.

A plan for a new airport on the Arial Beel wetlands in Bangladesh is an example of a aerotropolis-type megaproject that was halted by mass mobilisation. A vast swath of land had been earmarked for development, 10,117 hectares for the airport and an accompanying ‘satellite city’, and the farming and fishing livelihoods of thousands of people were set to be seriously affected with wetlands paved over. The government cancelled the project after major protests, the largest of which involved 30,000 people. In the Philippines, mangroves, coastal wetlands providing a vital habitat for many species and protection from erosion and flooding, have already been destroyed to make way for the proposed Bulacan Aerotopolis which threatens to destroy fishing livelihoods. Airport projects can entail deforestation. In Nepal, the proposed Nijgadh Airport, a massive 8,000 hectare aerotropolis, raises the prospect of over 2.4 million trees being felled.

A number of airport projects shown on the map are key components of tourism development schemes that are based upon aviation dependency. A proposed new airport on the Island of Fainu, in The Maldives, is accompanied by a plan for an adjoining hotel. The project would destroy a long stretch of white sand coastline, dense forest and agricultural land, the airport and hotel projects combined swallowing up much of the small island. Another example is the Philippine island of Sicogon where, in the aftermath of the devastation wreaked by Typhoon Yolanda, developers seized upon the opportunity for tourism development, the first phase of which includes an airport specifically for tourism along with beachfront accommodation. Disaster capitalism is also evident in the Caribbean island of Barbuda where land clearance for construction of a new airport, intended to support tourism growth in particular high-end resorts, began shortly after residents were evacuated following Hurricane Irma.

The map includes two major airports built to support fossil fuel projects. Uganda’s second international airport, Hoima Airport, currently under construction, is a key component of the 29 square kilometre Kabaale Petrochemical Industrial Park. With a 3.5 kilometre length runway, capable of accommodating the world’s largest cargo aircraft, it is envisaged that in its first phase of operations Hoima Airport will handle delivery of heavy equipment for the oil refinery on the site. In a similar vein, Komo Airfield, in the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea, has the country’s longest runway and was built for delivery of heavyweight and outsize equipment for the ExxonMobil led PNG LNG (liquefied natural gas) project.

A number of cases shown on the map involve allocation of larger areas of land than would be required for aviation operations, increasing the number of people potentially facing displacement due to land acquisition, but without clear information on what the excess land might be utilized for. For example, in Nigeria the Cross River State government intends to acquire 900 hectares of land for a proposed Obudu International Passenger and Cargo Airport and people have been evicted from their homes and farmlands. In a similar case in Nigeria, bulldozers arrived without warning to clear 4,000 hectares of farmland where crops including cocoa, palm trees and bananas were cultivated for a cargo airport in Ekiti. This airport project is one instance of a successful court case where affected people secured a court victory that halted the airport project. Also in Nigeria, about 5,000 people from 20 villages could be affected by a proposed Ogun cargo airport and hundreds of farmers protested against land-grabbing.

The map of aviation-related conflicts and environmental justice movements is an ongoing project in development coordinated by the EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) project and the Stay Grounded network. In addition to the 60 airport-related cases already included, a great many further cases have been registered as meriting further investigation. A total of 300 cases have been registered. The information gathered for the global map has been provided by a wide variety of organizations, local collectives and academics. The research team is coordinated by Rose Bridger (Stay Grounded) and Sara Mingorria (ICTA-UAB). This already substantial database and interactive map related to airports is part of Ejatlas, the biggest global inventory of socio-environmental conflicts around the world. As of 11th July 2019 2,831 cases were registered on Ejatlas and this is anticipated to increase to 3,000 cases by the end of the year.

Stay Grounded – a new international network to counter aviation

Today is the official launch of Stay Grounded, a new international network to counter aviation. Here is the press release. Aviation growth is causing increasing damage to the climate and communities, yet a massive wave of aviation expansion is underway and planned, at least 1,200 construction projects worldwide comprising new airports and expansion of existing airports. Stay Grounded is developing a global map of airport projects which are opposed by communities facing displacement from their homes and farmland, destruction of fishing grounds through land reclamation for offshore projects, deforestation, environmental damage from construction, health problems caused by pollutants emitted by aircraft and noise disturbance. Over the following fortnight there will be a wave of protests raising awareness of aviation expansion and resistance. Stay Grounded has published a Position Paper, shown below, which has already garnered 110 signatories, from civil society organizations in 24 countries. GAAM is pleased to be among the signatories and a member of this new international network.

Maps of New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM) and aerotropolis

GAAM is delighted to share an incredibly informative set of maps elucidating the complex socio-economic and environmental impacts of construction of New Mexico City International Airport (NAICM). The maps were produced by GeoComunes, a collective working with communities to use maps as an analytical tool to strengthen the struggle for defence of common goods, in collaboration with affected residents and NGOs supported by Coordinadora de Pueblos y Organizaciones del Oriente del Estado de México (CPOOEM), which supports people’s defence of land, water and culture in eastern Mexico. The NAICM site, covering over 4,431 hectares, is the waterlogged Texcoco lakebed. Aerotropolis development is planned: a specific area within the airport site and commercial and industrial development over an extensive area surrounding it.

NAICM maps

The first map, below, shows uncontrolled urbanization between 2000 and 2015, preceded by highway expansion, driven by real estate and encroaching on ejidos (communally held agricultural land) near the shores of Texcoco Lake. Landfill sites receiving waste from Mexico City have damaged farmland and polluted aquifers. The airport site is in the ‘Zona Federal’ area in the centre of the map. The existing Mexico City International Airport (officially named Benito Juárez International Airport) is shown near the bottom of the map.NAICM map 1

A perimeter fence has been erected around the NAICM Phase 1 project area. The site includes ejidal lands, in spite of assurances that the airport would be built entirely on federally-owned land. Ejidal lands were also appropriated for a highway and housing developments, and many Ejidos (land holders) were violently evicted by state security forces. Plans for Aerotropolis phase 1 include a shopping mall, hotels, industrial park, exclusive high-end housing, golf courses and a free trade zone. NAICM map 2

The third map shows satellite imagery of the three Ejido areas directly affected by airport construction. Over 330 hectares of ejidal lands, in the communities of Ixtapan, Nexquipayac and Atenco, were seized from its rightful owners by the government and now lie within the NAICM perimeter fence.NAICM map 3

Land-levelling to prepare the site for construction of the airport involved clearing saline sludge from the lakebed and toxic waste that has been dumped, polluting the Texcoco aquifer and damaging farmland. Extraction of materials for use in has had a devastating impact on sacred mountains, in the Valley of Mexico. Blasting with dynamite has damaged, forests, biodiversity, springs and archaeological remains. It is estimated that 64 million tonnes of tezontle (red volcanic rock) along with stone and other materials, carried on 400 trucks per day, will be deposited to fill in the Texcoco lakebed.NAICM map 4

Water drained from the Lake Texcoco area will be channelled into Nabo Carrillo, an artificial lake and newly created lagoons, along with water from the area east of the airport site channelled via several culverted rivers. Lying at the bottom of a downward slope the airport site is at risk of flooding from concentration of water flow in this area. The flood risk could become more severe as Texcoco lakebed is sinking at a rate of about 12 inches annually. NAICM map 5

An extensive road network linking NAICM to key urban centres is planned and under construction, encroaching on ejidal land and opening up additional land for real estate and commercial development. Many of the roads are toll roads which will generate profits for construction firms holding the concessions and thus set to benefit from the traffic flow.NAICM map 6

Data from all the maps is combined in the final map, which covers a wider geographical area revealing the extent of the urbanization that is underway and planned. See the larger version of the map for more detail. NAICM is shown within a wider context as the most important of, and the focal point for, a series of megaprojects combining to form a ‘Megalopolis’, an agglomeration of cities and other urban areas. New road and rail corridors will foster further real estate development. Mexico City already suffers chronic water shortages and springs and groundwater are over-exploited. The current model of urbanization will increase stress on water supplies and aqueducts are planned to access more distant sources.  NAICM map 7 s

All the maps of NAICM and aerotropolis plans can be seen here in their entirety and are best viewed on the largest computer screen that you can find so you can zoom in and see the intricate detail.

Maldives ecosystems and communities threatened by aviation expansion drive

A proliferation of new airport projects in the Maldives is destroying unique coastal ecosystems and threatens devastating impacts on communities and livelihoods. As many as 20 new airports, several accompanied by hotel developments, are planned and under construction, and many projects are government funded.

In October 2017 a dredger, newly acquired by Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) and at 92 metres in length the largest in its dredging fleet, began land reclamation for a new airport on Kulhudhuffushi, an island in the north of the Maldives. By early January 2018 land reclamation for the new airport was complete. Sediment dredged up from the ocean bed had been dumped on the largest white clay wetland and mangrove in the Maldives and destroyed a unique ecosystem. The Kulhudhuffushi mangrove system was the most biodiverse in the Maldives, hosting eight IUCN Red List species. Kulhudhuffushi mangroves had also provided a livelihood for over 400 people, predominantly women, and their families, who soaked coconut husks in the mangrove mud as part of a coir rope making industry sustained over many generations. Maldives report

The impacts of construction of Kulhudhufushi and two other new airports in the Maldives – on Funadhoo and Maafaru islands – are documented in an excellent booklet, Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives published by SaveMaldives a civic movement that has emerged in response to a government drive for new airports and tourism resorts. After destroying mangroves to make way for Kulhudhuffushi Airport MTCC was then awarded the contract to build facility’s  1.2 kilometre runway. Then MTCC’s new dredger moved southwards to Funadhoo island where it was deployed to reclaim land from the north west lagoon for another new airport. Upon completion of this operation MTCC was contracted to build Funadhoo Airport runway, apron and taxiway. Funadhoo is an environmentally sensitive area, sharing a reef with its twin island, Farukolhu, that includes extensive mangroves. Dredging and reclamation proceeded near to Farukolhu’s nesting grounds supporting several bird species and a bay that serves as a marine breeding site for sharks and rays.

Construction of Maafaru Airport is nearing completion and test flights are imminent. Lush vegetation has already been decimated. Ecosytems highlighted as at risk in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), and now irreversibly removed, include 20,000 trees, mangroves, marshland, coral colonies and seagrass beds. The EIA flagged up the necessity of relocating mangroves but there is no evidence that any such mitigative measure has been implemented. Maafaru Airport is larger than Kulhudhufushi and Funadhoo airports. Its  2.2 kilometre runway is long enough to accommodate Boeing 737 planes with a regular terminal along with facilities for parking private jets and a hotel. Maafaru Airport is part of a US$60 million agreement with the Abu Dhabi Fund to develop ultra-luxurious tourism in Noonu atoll.

The Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives report draws attention to various aspects of regulatory failure which have allaowed airport projects without the obligatory safeguards. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is supposed to act as an independent authority but has been stripped of its powers to regulate tourism-related projects, effectively becoming a ‘rubber stamp’ legitimizing destructive infrastructure projects. A key EPA task is to assess, approve and monitor compliance with EIAs, but new airports and tourism projects resulting in irreversible damage to fragile ecosystems have been approved. New airports already under construction in Kulhudhuffushi, Funadhoo, Maafuru are just the beginning of an ecocidal aviation expansion frenzy. The Maldives government is planning a total of 20 new airports across the archipelago. Land reclamation also looms for a proliferation of new tourism resorts. The aviation and tourism drive expansion drive is obliterating white sand beaches and pristine coastal ecosystems, the very assets that are key to the the popularity of the Maldives as a tourist destination.

New airport threatens to swallow up Fainu island

The concept drawing for a new airport on Fainu island shows the airport taking up about two-thirds of the island land area with the runway extending along the entire southern coastline. The Maldives Independent calculated that 31 hectares of vegetation would be lost, including a dense jungle area and agricultural land. The airport plan also includes about 4 hectares of land reclamation. Land earmarked for a gated hotel is shown on the map below as an area adjacent to the airport and shaded in purple.

Fainu airport + hotel

A woman speaking anonymously to the Maldives Independent said that rumours of an airport on Fainu island had circulated since she was a child, but all of a sudden the airport agreement was signed, funding allocated and work about to commence, yet even the island council did not have information. Another woman said “If they take our land for all of that, we will be boxed into the paopulated ares of the island like an open jail”. Residents also stand to lose access to 2.18 kilometers of beautiful beach to the airport security zone and hotel. Additional developments, namely a medical facility, hangar, lounges and restaurants have been mentioned. Islanders opposing the airport are concerned that even more land might be taken for a second hotel.
#SaveFainu
Residents acted quickly to form a campaign opposing the airport, SaveFainu and a petition submitted to the Tourism Ministry, Universal Enterprises and Island Aviation was signed by 140 people, about half of the population of Fainu island. Universal Enterprises, one of the largest hospitality companies in the Maldives, is financing Fainu Airport through bulk purchase of advance sales of air tickets. Island Aviation, owner and operator of Maldivian, the largest carrier in the Maldives, has been awarded the US$8 million contract to develop the airport. The SaveFainu petition called for more transparency from the Tourism Ministry, proper consultation with islanders and an independent EIA.

Mohamed Waheed, a leading activist in the SaveFainu campaign said some residents did not sign the petition for fear of losing their jobs, but are worried that such a large amount of the island would be lost to the airport and the secrecy and lack of transparency regarding the project. People are worried that loss of farmland to the airport would mean the loss of farming livelihoods. Waheed said job opportunities at the airport would not match the incomes made by people working on farms and pointed out that a comparable airport on Kudahuvadhoo island only employs 29 people.

More land reclamation, more new airports

Land reclamation has already created space for a new airport on Muli island. On 11th July 2018 President Yameen pledged to develop an airport on Muli island and attended a ceremony marking completion of the land reclamation project. MTCC has been paving the way for an airport on Muli island for some time. A land reclamation agreement was signed in 2014 and reclamation of 40 hectares of land was reported as completed in May 2017. An aerial photo shows an ideal site for an airport runway already in place, a strip of reclaimed land running along almost the entire eastern shoreline of Muli island, encompassing the southern tip and extending along about a third of the western coast.

MTCC has also been contracted to reclaim land for a new airport in Hoarafushi in Haa Alif Atoll, the northernmost atoll in the Maldives. The project, anticipated to cost over US$4 million, will be funded by the state budget. MTCC has already started development of an airport on Maavarulu island, a project costing US$ 3.7 million funded by the state budget, with tarring of the 1,200 metre runway scheduled to commence by the end of July. Maarvarulu is an island on Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll, where a second new airport is to be built, on Faresmaathoda, an uninhabited island situated on the south of the atoll. Tourism developer ‘Champa’ Mohamed Moosa, gave a US$4 million loan to the government to develop the airport and a press conference at the beginning of June marked the signing of a US$2.5 million contract with Gulf Cobla, a UAE based dredging company, to begin land reclamation for the project.

Mohamed Moosa is chair of Kuredu Holdings, a major resort operator which has been awarded a contract to develop another new airport, on Madivaru island, in the tourism hotspot of Lhaviyani atoll, which will entail reclaiming three hectares of land from Madivaru lagoon. Kuredu Holdings is expected to develop a hotel to support Madivaru airport operations. More land reclamation, and yet another new airport, looms in Bileyfahi, where President Abdulla Yameen pledged to reclaim land and build a domestic airport, explaining that this additional facility, together with the new Funadhoo Airport, which is located just 40 kilometres away, will make Shaviyani atoll a tourism hub.

The necessity of the new airports, many of which are generously funded by the government, is highly questionable. The Maldives already has 12 airports and all three new airports in the #SaveMaldives report are being constructed even though an existing airport is easily accessible by speedboat, a journey of 45 minutes in the case of Funadhoo Airport, 40 minutes on the case of Maafuru and just 25 minutes away from Kulhudhuffushi Airport. In a similar vein, SaveFainu campaigners regard an airport on Fainu island to be unnecessary as an existing airport in Raa atoll, 26 kilometers away on Ifuru island, can be reached by speedboat in just 25 minutes.

Climate impacts from aviation expansion, land reclamation and loss of mangroves

The Maldives government continues its drive to build new airport projects even though the country is on the front line of the battle against climate change. Rising seas are lapping at the shores of many low-lying islands. The Irreversible Damage, Destruction & Loss #SaveMaldives report points out the inconsistency of the Maldives government on the international stage when in November 2017, Environment Minister, Thoriq Ibrahim, traveled to advocate for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) at the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). A key issue for small islands is their vulnerability to rising seas caused by climate change. Yet the government driven and funded aviation expansion drive is a climate double whammy; with aviation expansion increasing greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft and land reclamation increasing vulnerability to climate change induced flooding from rising sea levels, severe storm surges and more intense rainfall due to removal of vegetation which serve as a buffer absorbing excess water.

Destruction of mangroves for new airports compounds the climate impacts, because these unique ecosystems play a unique role in carbon sequestration, absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing in their biomass for long periods and laying down soil that acts as a carbon sink. The Maldives government pursues environmentally devastating airport projects in the face of widespread opposition from civil society, even though it is a recipient of large amounts of donor funds for climate change mitigation and resilience. International organizations and development partners such as UNDP Maldives have remained silent.