Bill calls for repeal of Bulacan Aerotropolis franchise

On 12th April a bill was submitted to the House of Representatives of the Philippines calling for repeal of a franchise granted to San Miguel Aerocity Inc., a subsidiary of San Miguel Corporation (SMC), to contruct, develop, establish, operate and maintain an airport and an adjacent airport city in Bulacan, on the northwest shore of Manila Bay. The bill, HB 9191, cites evidence of negative environmental impacts including loss and reclamation of land, alteration of river and drainage pathways, removal of flora and fauna and air pollution from construction and operations. Four major geohazards were identified: earthquakes, tidal and fluvial flooding, storm surge and subsidence. The bill states that the Environmental Impact Statment (EIS) that was the basis for approval of an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) issued to SMC’s contractor, Silvertides, has been concealed from the public and affected fisherfolk. Silvertides’ February 2019 announcement that 2,375 hectares of fishponds would be impacted by back-fill (the first stages of a land reclamation process) requiring 205 million cubic metres of fill materials, is an indication of the potential scale of the loss of fishing grounds and disruption of coastal ecosystems.

HB 9191 cites evidence from Pamalakaya, the national federation supporting the rights of small fisherfolk, stating that the aerotropolis project and the law granting the franchise are ‘undemocratic’ due to a lack of consultation, intimidation and militarization faced by about 700 affected fisherfolk families. Their concerns over displacement for the aerotropolis include food insecurity, livelihood and economic losses, loss of housing and privatization of communal areas. In April 2018 an attempt to submit a petition opposing the project and hold a peaceful protest was violently dispersed by local police. In June 2020 some affected residents were pressurized to demolish their own homes. When legislative measures were filed at the House of Representatives affected fisherfolk were not given opportunites to express their opinions about or opposition to the project. Passage of the bill is sought in order to ‘uphold the democratic rights of marginalized sectors particularly for the small fisherfolk sector; for the genuine rehabilitation of Manila Bay and preservation and conservation of the marine and fisheries resources’.

Earthworks for Kediri Airport and an adjacent development

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, on 15th April 2020, officials from the Indonesian government and the East Java province attended a virtual groundbreaking ceremony for a new airport in the Kediri regency. The event marked the official start of construction works that had actually begun three months earlier in January when heavy machines were levelling soil, following several delays that were partly caused by some affected residents refusing to release their land for the project due to unpaid compensation. Fewer than 20 families, in the villages of Bedreck and Bulusari, remained in the area. A villager told The Jakarta Post “If we accept the price, we won’t be able to buy land and build a house of similar value to what we have now”. She said none of the villagers wished to hamper development of the airport, they simply wanted fair compensation. The Kediri administration said that only 0.6 per cent of the 400 hectares of land required to build the airport had not been acquired.

The Kediri Airport project (also referred to as Dhoho Airport) was approved in 2018. The first of the satellite images above shows the airport site area in April 2018, consisting of villages and farmland. The second image shows the same area in June 2020 after earthworks had levelled large areas of land. The third satellite image is from November 2020, by which time earthworks had progressed and impacted upon a larger area, transforming the landscape from verdant green to a pale expanse of crushed and compacted rock. Adjoining this area, extending to the southwest, additional earthworks and construction of roads can be seen. This airport-adjacent development is shown in the fourth and final image in the slideshow, a graphic of the Kediri Master Plan visualising a future tourism and residential complex in this area. Produced by ARKDESIGN Architects and Planners, the ‘MASTER DEVELOPMENT PLAN, PLANTATION RESORT & RESIDENCES’ shows two commercial development areas, a warehouse, utility complex and parking adjoining the airport terminal and cargo buildings. Extending to the southwest is an area allocated for hotels, residences and various tourism facilities including five lakes. Progress of construction of the one of these artificial lakes, near the centre of the planned development, can be seen in the satellite images. The graphic indicates proximity to Mount Wilis, a solitary volcanic massif amidst the surrounding low-lying plains. The route of a future toll road is shown extending from the southeast of the project site, between the airport and the adjacent development.

Controversy over land acquisition for Kediri Airport dates back to 2017, when residents, aware of large-scale land acquisition, questioned whether it was a government or private project. In March 2019 residents of one of the affected villages, Jatirejo, hung dozens of banners along village roads, stating their refusal to accept the prices offered by land buyers for agricultural land, that they said were too low. In October 2019 37 head of family residents of Bedrek Selatan hamlet, Grogol village, had not released their land for the airport project as they had not agreed compensation. The airport plan had caused the price of land around the project site to soar. Land prices had also gone up in Bulusari village where some residents were confused over where to relocate to. Some who had received compensation were experiencing difficulties in finding places to relocate to because of soaring land prices. A shift in the location of the airport runway had required acquisition of additional land, leaving residents with difficulties finding land to relocate to. In January 2020 45 residents of Grogol village rejected land acquisition, protesting over a drop in the compensation offer that would only be sufficient for them to buy land in far away suburbs. Residents’ coordinator said they were being pressured to give up their land for the airport. In February 2020, just two months before the groundbreaking ceremony, some residents had still not agreed to the compensation offers for land acquisition. Ten families were refusing eviction because, while the price of land in their village had dropped drastically, the price of land in new locations where they might settle had risen; they faced the prospect of a huge loss. A resident of Bedrek spoke of repeated visits by land buyers over several months and being pressured to accept the price offered for land.

At the time of writing some residents are still unwilling to leave their homes and suffer the impacts of airport construction works. Several villages – Tarokan, Tiron, Bangkan, Jatirejo and Grogol – have been demolished for the airport project and most of the inhabitants had left. Tugiyem, one of few villagers remaining in Mbandrek Selatan, spoke in the midst of swirling dust and roaring engines of construction vehicles, staring at a pile of dredged rocks. She had lived there since the 1960s and used to work gazing livestock, but her animals were left dying as the construction company had fenced off the land and she could not reach them. A metal fence erected on one side of Grogol, ostensibly to deter trespassing and reduce pollution from construction works, limits residents’ access to their village. One of the main roads connecting Grogol village has been blocked off to aid construction works. This had forced farmers taking their crops to the city to take longer routes and food stalls and shops near the road had to shut down. Within a month of closing access to the road four shops had gone bankrupt. Owners of surviving shops have to rely on custom from their neighbours, including Siti Anggirawan who was forced to close her textile shop. Waiting for customers outside her grocery store, Sri Katun said air quality in Grogol had deteriorated, “When a strong wind blows, construction dust drifts into the house. I often cough.” But she had no thoughts of giving up the land she had bought after years of saving up money, saying, “This house is witness to my ups and downs alongside my husband. We want to die on this land that has been part of our history.”

Earthworks for the airport project consisted of a cut and fill excavation up to 35 metres high. Rivers are being diverted away from the runway via two enormous box culverts, one 570 metres in length and the other 470 metres, made from reinforced concrete. A 3,300 metre runway is being built, to acommodate the largest world’s largest aircraft such as the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350. Construction of the airport proceeds even though plummetting air traffic since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic casts doubts on the feasibility of traffic predictions. And the projections for Kediri Airport, as reported in ACI World Airport Development News, Issue 4 2020, are ambitious. Upon completion of the first phase of construction, scheduled for April 2022, Kediri Airport is projected to handle 1.5 million passengers per annum, eventually rising to more than 10 million annually. A Transport Ministry offical said Kediri Airport would serve domestic flights for tourism, and might also be used for cargo related to possible future agricultural and industrial activity in East Java. Kediri Airport is the first in Indonesia to be fully funded by the private sector. Tobacco company Gudang Garam will spend up to USD732 million to acquire 457 hectares of land and a subsidiary, Surya Dhoho Investama, will oversee development of the airport.

New Research: Airport projects responsible for human rights violations and ecological destruction around the world

Map of Airport-related Injustice and Resistance

Interactive map documents 80 cases of airport-related injustice and resistance

A new interactive map documents cases of airport-related injustice and resistance around the world. All across the globe airport projects are generating serious conflicts and social and environmental impacts: land acquisition, displacement of people, destruction of ecosystems, local pollution and health issues. A new map based on scientific research presents 80 cases as detailed examples of the conflicts generated by airport projects around the world. The research also identified more than 300 cases of airport projects where there is evidence of conflict, that merit further investigation. Research began in 2018 and has been jointly conducted by the EnvJustice project of the Environmental Science and Technology Institute at the Autonomous University of Barcelona (ICTA-UAB) and the Stay Grounded network. 

In many countries, airport planning, construction and expansion continues, in spite of the steep decline in air traffic since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. All aviation expansion, wherever it takes place, contributes to the global problem of climate destruction. Aviation, being fossil fuel dependent and intensive, is a major and growing source of greenhouse gas emissions. By documenting a multitude of local struggles against airport projects the Map of Airport-related Injustice and Resistance contributes to a broad and diverse global movement for degrowth of aviation and transition to a just and sustainable mobility system.

Communities around the world struggle against eviction from their homes and farmland for aviation expansion, and to protect forests, wetlands and coastal ecosystems, our research shows. Our interactive feature map, the first of its kind, documents a multitude of airport-related injustices and inspirational resistance movements,” say Sara Mingorría of EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) and Rose Bridger of Stay Grounded.

Many of the cases documented and analysed involve affected communities opposing  land acquisition for airport projects. In about half of those cases studied there were problems of land dispossession (50%) and displacement (47%). Many communities resisting displacement have suffered human rights violations and state repression: forced evictions, harassment, intimidation, arrests, imprisonment and violence. In around a third of the cases studied there were problems of repression (30%), militarization (29%) and the conflicts reached a high level of intensity (35.5%).

Site clearance for many airport projects also obliterates wildlife habitats and biodiversity. In 48 percent of the cases analyzed, problems of loss of landscape were registered, 41 percent involved deforestation impacts and 32 percent loss of biodiversity. 

“Exploitation of ecosystems and local communities for airport infrastructure must end. The current slump in air traffic provides the opportunity for a just reduction of air traffic. For this, a moratorium on new airports and expansion of existing airports is necessary,” says Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded.

The Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance is a joint project by the EnvJustice (ICTA-UAB) and Stay Grounded. Information has been contributed by organizations, journalists, activists and academics. The research project is co-founded and coordinated by Rose Bridger (Stay Grounded/Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement-GAAM/EnvJustice ICTA-UAB) and Sara Mingorría (Stay Grounded/EnvJustice ICTA-UAB); Yannick Deniau (Envjustice/GeoComunes) and Mira Kapfinger (Stay Grounded) joined the coordination team during the project. The 80 published cases are just the beginning of the mapping project. The research team anticipates that many more conflicts will be documented on the map as the project continues.

EJAtlas is an online database and interactive map documenting and cataloguing environmental conflict around the world. It started in 2011 and counted on the collaboration of hundreds of researchers and organizations. It is now coordinated by the ENVJUSTICE project at ICTA-UAB.

Stay Grounded is a network of more than 160 member organisations from all over the world, among them: NGOs, climate justice groups, indigenous organisations, labour unions and civil initiatives against airport noise and expansion. Together, they fight for climate justice and a fair reduction of aviation.

See the airport injustice cases on the Feature map

For more information see Voices from affected communities and overview of cases.

Aerotropolis: Evictions, Ecocide and Loss of Farmland, part 1

The first section of a two-part video, Aerotropolis: Evictions, Ecocide and Loss of Farmland, highlights damaging impacts of aerotropolis (airport city) projects on people and the environment. Allocation of large sites means that communities face displacement and entire ecosystems can be destroyed.

The video looks at 14 aerotropolis-type projects: New Yogyakarta International Airport, Kertajati Airport and Aerocity, Kualanamu Aerotropolis (Indonesia), 2nd Jeju Airport (South Korea), New Phnom Penh Airport (Cambodia), Long Thanh Aerotropolis (Vietnam), Taoyuan Aerotropolis (Taiwan), KXP AirportCity (Malaysia), Andal Aerotropolis, Bhogapuram Airport and Aerocity, Shivdaspura Aerocity (India), Anambra Airport City (Nigeria), Tamale Airport (Ghana) and Western Sydney Aerotropolis (Australia). For further information see the comprehensive Reference list of source material, including photos and other images.

Land acquisition for proposed aerotropolis in Kedah, Malaysia

A proposed aerotropolis in Malaysia, KXP AirportCity, is one of a number of strategic infrastructure projects under the Northern Corridor Economic Region (NCER) Strategic Development Plan 2021-2025. The project, also referred to as Kedah Aerotropolis, comprises a new airport, Kulim International Airport and Sidam Logistics, Aerospace and Manufacturing Hub (SLAM). The Kedah Aerotropolis page on the NCER website describes an aerotropolis as ‘a metropolitan subregion whose infrastructure, land use and economy are centred on an airport’. It states that the proposed development would take up 9,841 acres (3,983 hectares) of land and that ‘KXP has readily available land that can cater for its expansion for the next 20 to 50 years’. Images in the sildeshow below show: a map of the proposed KXP AirportCity site with associated road development including a new expressway interchange, an aerial image with a digitised boundary of the proposed site, predominantly consisting of farmland, and a Kedah Aerotropolis infographic.

The Kedah state government appointed KXP AirportCity Holdings (KAHSB) to manage and coordinate construction of Kulim Airport. In February 2020, after witnessed a signing ceremony between the CEO of KAHSB and Aeroport de Paris Ingenierie (ADPI), the firm appointed to draw up a development master plan for KXP, Kedah Menteri Besar (Chief Minister) Mukhriz Mahathir invited airport investors, operators and concession holders to invest in the project. He said “The risks of uncertainties regarding land acquisition have been settled” and announced that 3,982 hectares of land had been gazetted to KXP and the Federal Government had approved a “large loan facility” for Kedah to acquire the land, currently belonging to private owners.

But land acquisition for KXP AirportCity met with a protest by villagers concerned they would lose their land and livelihoods. Many Pantai Cicar villagers were concerned that land they had lived on for almost a century could be lost as it was within the area earmarked for construction of the airport city project. On 28th February 2020 about 300 residents of Pantai Cicar village gathered in front of the mosque to protest against land acquisition for the proposed KXP project. The chairman of a village action committee said the earmarked land included more than 200 houses, the mosque that had been built by the community and the cemetary where their ancestors were buried. Implementation of the airport project would impact upon residents whose main livelihoods are from rubber tapping, working on palm plantations and self-employment.

On 28th February 2020 about residents of Pantai Cicar village protested against proposed construction of KXP AirportCity / Kulim Airport in their village, Sinar Hinan, 2nd March 2020

A video of the 28th February protest against taking Pantai Cicar village land for KXP AirportCity shows a large gathering of people. Some of the banners at the protest are written in English and read:

OUR LAND FOR NEXT GENERATION AND NOT FOR NEW AIRPORT, WHY NEED TO CONSTRUCT NEW AIRPORT AT TRADITIONAL VILLAGES

DON’T TAKE OUR BELOVED VILLAGE, AVOID THE KXP, FROM OUR VILLAGE, MOVE THE KXP TO THE PKNK OWN PROPERTY

DON’T DISTURB OUR COMMUNITY WITH NEW AIRPORT PROJECT

OUR LAND FOR NEXT GENERATION AND NOT FOR NEW KXP CITY & AIRPORT

WE LOVE STAY UNITY. PLEASE DON’T DEVIDE US WITH SPLIT SETTLEMENT, WE DO NOT NEED NEW AIRPORT AT THIS MOMENT

WE LOVE STAY UNITY. PLEASE DON’T DEVIDE US WITH SPLIT SETTLEMENT, DEALING WITH BIAS NOT OUR CULTURE!

At the time of the protest preparations were underway to hand over a memorandum containing almost 1,000 residents’ signatures to the state government. In addition to Pantai Cicar several nearby villages were also listed in the proposed land acquisition: Kuala Sedim, Jerung, Kemumbong, Lubuk Kiab, Batu Pekaka and Tanah Licin. The local government and housing committee chairman said the Kedah state government would investigate and review the project’s impact on the environment, saying planning was just beginning and there would be a discussion session.

Since a Kulim airport project was being considered in 2014 there has been an emphasis on potential air cargo operations. In December 2014 Mukhriz said the Kedah state government planned to construct an ‘aerocity’ at the proposed Kulim Airport; an industrial and business area, located on what was at that juncture specified as a 600 hectare airport precinct, would “accommodate all industries related to air transportation”. In March 2015 Mukhriz said Kulim Airport would initially operate as a cargo facility. In November 2020 KXP was described as ‘an airport city that will be an integral part of the Kedah Aerotropolis economic region driven by intermodal connectivity focussing on cargo, logistics and industrial development’. It is envisaged that Kulim Airport’s cargo facilities and the development of the aerotropolis will be complemented by the Sidam Logistics, Aerospace and Manufacturing Hub (SLAM).

Allegations of land encroachment for Anambra Airport City/Cargo Airport

A large area of farmland was cleared for an airport city/cargo airport in Anambra, southern Nigeria and neighbouring communities complain of expansion of the project site and land grabbing. Two satellite images of the site show major changes over a four year period. The image on the left shows the airport site in January 2016, before announcement of the project, containing many plots of farmland. On the right, an image dated February 2020 shows a large expanse of farmland has been cleared for Anambra Airport City runway and other facilities.

Slide bar in the middle of the two images to see changes to landscape from clearing farmland for airport construction

The Anambra Airport City project, also also referred to as Umueri Airport City and Anambra Cargo Airport, was launched in April 2017. A two-runway airport with an airport hotel, business park, international convention centre along with aviation fuel and aircraft maintenance facilities, costing more than USD2.2 billion was announced by the governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano. Two years later a large expanse of land had been cleared but little work had been done on the site. Igbo Renaissance Council stated that the employment for local people that was promised had not materialized and residents whose homes had been razed to make way for the project had been left ‘dejected and depressed with no sign of hope on the horizon’.

In July 2020 – in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, with airports that had been closed since March only slowly recommencing operations – residents of several communities around the Anmbra Airport site complained that government agents responsible for executing the project were encroaching beyond the boundary of the land area that had been allocated. People of Umuopo, Umuinu and Enuagu kindreds in Umueri, north of the airport site, stated that they were being dispossessed of their remaining portions of land and had been “thrown into pains and agony“. They said the government was deliberately making them refugees on their own land. Community investigation revealed that unscupulous individuals were annexing their land and they called on the state government for help, stating:

“By extending their hand into other portions of our land, what does the government expect us to survive with as we are just farmers? We have written, we have cried, we have pleaded and we have engaged in all forms of diplomacy to demand that government restricts itself to the agreed portion of land, all to no avail.”

It was also reported that residents of Ifite Nteje, a community to the south of the Anambra airport project, were suffering from violence meted out by youths who had seized communal land. A band of youths had ‘unleashed mayhem on the community, sacking villagers from their homes’. People opposing sale of their communal land had been beaten with many being injured and homes had been burned down. Members of the community said the crisis had ‘brought hunger and famine as they no longer have land for farming’ and ‘they dared no go to their farms anymore for fear of being maimed, while the women among them were raped’. One woman, a widow, said their formerly peaceful community had been taken over by violence and she was one of many women who no longer had land to farm that they needed to feed their families.

On 14th October 2020 it was reported that youths from the Umueri community had dispersed bulldozers that had been had been stationed, without notice, to demolish farmland and privately owned agro-investments. A farm owner maintained his affected farm was not within the airport area and appealed for intervention from the state government to halt trespassing. On 19th October residents of Umuopo, Enuagu and Umuinu protested against alleged encroachment on their land, lighting a bonfire and blocking the road to the airport site. Some of the placards read: “We can’t be refugees and IDPs in our own land”; “We’re farmers why collect our land to build housing estate”; “Anambra State government go to the portion of land given for the airport.” The protestors described the government’s action as a deliberate attempt to impoverish the people, who were predominantly farmers. The Chairman of Ifite Umueri Community claimed that they had given the government 729.60 hectares for the airport project, but over 1,901 hectares had been taken.

Obiano, Anambra State governor, continues to support the Anambra Airport project, saying it will have the second longest runway in Nigeria after Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos. Then on 4th November the Anambra State Government set aside Naira 5.8 billion (USD15.2 million) for completion of the Anambra Airport project during the presentation of the 2021 Appropriation Bill.

cluster of airport-related conflicts in Nigeria

Information about Anambra Airport City/Cargo Airport and its impact on neighbouring communities is a new addition to a cluster of similar airport projects in southern Nigeria, all of which are documented and analyzed in the Map of Airport-Related Injustice and Resistance, a partnership project coordinated by EnvJustice and the Stay Grounded Network. Land has been cleared to make way for proposed cargo airports in Ekiti, Ogun, Obudu and Ebonyi. In all four cases bulldozers arrived without warning and began destroying people’s farmland and crops to make way for airport construction.

In the case of the proposed Ekiti airport bulldozers ripped down trees and cleared farmland before even consulting affected farm owners from five villages. Farmers succeeded in stalling the project and secured a major court victory with all their claims against the state government being vindicated. Hundreds of farmers protested against land-grabbing for a cargo airport in Ogun State. In 2018 it was reported that 5,000 farmers were affected by the project and some had been intimidated and their crops bulldozed. Earth moving equipment began destroying farmland and felling trees in three Obudu villages where land has been earmarked for an airport, flouting project planning and land procedures. Allocation of a large land area for a proposed cargo airport in Ebonyi cargo triggered protests by people facing displacement from their ancestral homes and farmland. Bulldozers began clearing land and destroying crops and landowners raised alarm over imminent hunger in their community.

Video – Aerotropolis: Early Examples

A new video explores early examples of aerotropolis developments, focusing on two key characteristics: airport land ownership or real estate, and non-aeronautical revenue generated from facilities on this land.

Several airports with associated aerotropolis-type development around the world are mentioned. Incheon Airport (South Korea) has a comprehensive range of facilities and a consistently high level of non-aeronautical revenue. In Europe airport-city style development is well established at Schiphol, Frankfurt and Munich and Athens airports. Prominent examples in Asia include Changi Airport and Kuala Lumpur Airport. In Australia Perth Airport generates non-aeronautical revenue from retail and other facilities. In North America, phased development is underway on land owned by Edmonton Airport in Canada and Dallas/Forth Worth, Indianapolis and Denver airports in the US. All these aerotropolis developments could be outsized by China’s Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone (ZAEZ). See references for source material including images. Please consider subscribing to the GAAM YouTube channel for notification when future videos are published.

Webinar – Proposed Bulacan Airport threatens Manila Bay

News website Rappler and Oceana Philippines, an organisation working to protect the oceans, hosted an informative webinar about the threats posed to the people and environment of Manila Bay by the proposed Bulacan Airport, an aerotropolis.

Land reclamation for the Bulacan airport site, creating new land from the ocean, a process also referred to as dump and fill, would destroy fishing grounds. An astonishing 205 million cubic metres of fill material is required, a volume large enough to fill 20 million dump trucks, and it is not even known where this material would be sourced from. Fisherfolk face displacement and loss of their livelihoods and the food security of the region is at risk. Loss of biodiverse ecosystems including wetlands and mangroves threaten to devastate marine life and habitats that support many wild bird species. Local communities’ vulnerability to geohazards – typhoons, storm surges, earthquakes and rising sea levels caused by climate change – would be severely exacerbated.

A strong legal framework, constitutional provisions and national laws, protecting Manila Bay and the rights of subsistence fishing communties, and prohibiting ecologically devastating projects such as Bulacan Airport, already exists. Government agencies need to adhere to their mandates to protect coastal communities and natural life-support systems.

Webinar speakers:

  • Gloria Estenzo Ramos, Vice President of Oceana Philippines
  • Narod Eco, researcher at Marine Science Institute-University of the Philippines-Diliman
  • Francis Cortez, a spokesperson of Bulacan Ecumenical Forum

Amazon expands e-commerce footprint

Amazon’s expansion of its e-commerce logistics network, giant distribution and fulfilment centres, continues during the Covid-19 pandemic. Several new facilities are airport-adjacent and many are supported by tax breaks.

Online buying has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic. Confinement of American citizens to their homes under ‘shelter in place’ orders and closure of shops selling non-essential goods have been a gift to e-commerce firms with extensive home delivery networks. E-commerce spending in the US surged by 78% in May, with Amazon, Target and Walmart reporting soaring online sales. Amazon, expanding its market share to nearly 40% of all online sales, has been the biggest winner. The first week of July 2020 marked the twelfth straight week of over 60% year-on-year growth of customer spending on Amazon. And Amazon is consolidating its distribution dominance by adding to its existing large facilities at airports, strategically located in proximity to fulfilment centres (warehouses for receiving and processing orders). A fleet of trucks, estimated to number over 20,000, delivers products and packages to urban centres.

Amazon Prime Air (32247381627)

Amazon Prime Air Boeing 767-300F, Nathan Coats from Seattle, WA, United States of America / CC BY-SA

Amazon’s surface shipping network is supported by Amazon Air (formerly known as Amazon Prime Air), a wholly owned subsidiary of the retail, e-commerce and logistics giant. Growth of Amazon Air is accelerating in 2020 and is a cornerstone of Amazon’s drive to challenge the dominance of FedEx, UPS and the United States Postal Service (USPS) in the overnight and 2-day home delivery market. Amazon’s fleet of cargo aircraft is anticipated to grow from 42 at present to 70 by 2021. A fleet of this size would place Amazon Air, its route network almost entirely within North America, among the world’s largest cargo airlines.

Amazon ‘super hub’ at CVG

A massive new air hub at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Airport (CVG) appears to be the lynchpin of Amazon’s expansion of domestic deliveries across the US. The new facility is expected to handle 200 flights per day, becoming Amazon Air’s ‘super hub’. Construction has caused problems for neighbouring homes and business premises. For more than a year vibrations from blasting works during construction caused damage to buildings along with uncontrolled dust and noise. Two affected residents filed a complaint seeking to allow residents living within 1 mile of the site to file a class action lawsuit against the contractors building the air hub. A construction worker, Loren Shoemake, was killed in a accident on the site. $40 million in state and local tax incentives and an additional $5 million from CVG Airport were given to Amazon to develop the air cargo hub at CVG and the State of Kentucky built a new interchange on the Interstate-275 highway to serve the development.

Nearly $3 billion tax breaks and counting

Amazon’s growth is partly due to its agressive stragetegy for getting tax breaks. Amazon Tracker, created by Good Jobs First, a non-profit organisation focusing on government and corporate accountability, tallies tax breaks and other subsidies given to Amazon for warehouses, other distribution network facilities and data centers. At the time of writing the total amounted to $2,982,000,000. Amazon facilites at airports benefitting from subsidies include hubs at Lakeland in Polk County, Florida and Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma, and distribution centres at Charlotte Douglas Airport in North Carolina and Romulus, Michigan.

Charlotte City Council approved $13.4 million in incentives to Amazon to bring an Amazon facility to Charlotte Douglas Airport. Opening in September 2019, the distribution centre has a footprint of 855,000 square feet, about the size of 15 football pitches. An identically sized Amazon fulfilment centre, on 84 acres of land in Romulus, north of Detroit Metropolitan Airport, was granted a $5 million state subsidy from the Michigan Strategic Fund in 2017. In addition $13.5 million of Michigan tax dollars was allocated for infrastructure around the site. The director of the Detroit Regional Aerotropolis Development Corporation said Amazon would attract other transportation and logistics firms to vacant property near the airport. Efforts to develop 6,000 acres of land within Detroit Regional Aerotropolis began in 2007 but never took off.

During 2020 Amazon has continued expansion of its surface shipping network, constructing and leasing massive warehouses across the US, in several instances supported by tax breaks and state funding for associated road infrastructure. In June 2020 the town of North Andover, Massachusetts, approved an estimated $27 million in tax incentives to Amazon for a massive 3.8 million square feet, five-storey high distribution centre. A tax increment finance agreement will reduce Amazon’s property tax bill for a decade. The amount is almost equal to the combined total of tax breaks previously granted to the company for other facilities in Massachusetts in the past few years: $16 million in state and local tax incentives for a large distribution centre in Fall River, an estimated $3.5 million for a sortation centre in Stoughton and up to $10 million in property tax breaks from the city of Boston for new offices in the Seaport District. The 110 acre North Andover site, formerly an industrial complex, is adjacent to Lawrence Municipal Airport with easy access to two interstate highways, the I-495 partial beltway around Boston and the I-93 arterial road extending from southwest Boston to St. Johnsbury, Vermont.

Site of new Amazon distribution centre in North Andover, Massachusetts

Over in Ohio construction of an Amazon fulfilment centre with a 2.8 million square feet footprint in Rossford, Wood County, was nearing completion by the end of June 2020. Interior works on robotics and HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) were underway and the scope of the project had expanded; 300 parking spaces for tractor-trailers in initial designs had increased to 719. Also in Ohio, state funding for a road project in Etna Township, Licking County is related to an Amazon building. One of the biggest speculative developments in the country, the footprint is reportedly 1.2 million square feet. The 15th June 2020 meeting of the Ohio Controlling Board approved release of $800,000 in support of the Amazon project, to extend a road “needed for basic access to the facility.” The 85 jobs that will be created by the road project come at the expense of a hefty subsidy: $9,411 per job. State largesse for Amazon was the polar opposite of swingeing $850,000 cuts to the nearby Southwest Licking School District, part of statewide budget cuts announced in May.

Map showing site of Amazon speculative building in Etna Township and road funded by Ohio Controlling Board. Source: Newark Advocate, 11th June 2020

More Amazon facilities in California

Imminent opening of a large new Amazon distribution centre at Meadows Field Airport in Kern County, California – a four floor facility with a footprint measuring 640,000 square feet – was announced in June 2020. Kern County agreed to give Amazon $3 million in local tax rebates in 2018, a subsidy package that would award the company annual refunds of approximately $275,000 for more than a decade.

Speculation that Amazon is developing a western hub at San Bernardino Airport was confimed on 8th May 2020 when the tenant of a major new air cargo facility was announced and the project named Amazon Air Regional Air Hub. Up until this point the tenant of what had previously been called the Eastgate Air Cargo Facility had not been disclosed. Amazon has already built 14 giant fulfilment centres in the San Bernardino and Riverside communities, known as the Inland Empire and one of the biggest hubs for goods warehousing and distribution in the US. High levels of air pollution from logistics traffic is compounded by geography; the area sits in a valley between two mountain ranges, forming a bowl trapping pollutants and emissions drift inland from Los Angeles. Several studies link poor air quality to health problems.

Eastgate Air Cargo Facility site plan
Eastgate Air Cargo Facility site plan showing distribution and office building, aircraft parking areas, dock doors, parking and operational support areas. Source: Environmental Science Associates, Inc., July 2019

More air cargo flights at San Bernardino Airport will bring more trucks, more traffic and more pollution. Specifications for the air cargo facility include two new driveways into the site with two new bridges crossing the City Creek Bypass Channel. Hundreds of local residents attended meetings to raise concerns over pollution from air cargo flights at the new San Bernardino Airport facililty and the projected 1,568 diesel-fuelled truck trips per day. A coalition of residents, community organisations, labour unions and churches united under the San Bernardino Airport Communities banner to push for good jobs during construction and operation and protection from air pollution, noise and road traffic impacts.

Two local community groups in Sonoma, Northern California, called for public input on a proposal to lease a vast warehouse to Amazon for its North Bay delivery hub project, questioning whether the turning the space into a major regional delivery centre violates the terms of the permit for the building. The property is zoned for light manufacturing, research and development, warehousing and distribution or retail/office use. Norman Gilroy of Mobilize Sonoma and Kathy Pons of the Valley of the Moon Alliance raised concerns that operation of a major regional delivery centre will increase intensity of the building’s use, without planning review or public comment, enquiring about the number of vehicles that will enter and leave the building on a typical day. The facility is anticipated to open in the autumn. In June 2020 neighbouring residents, concerned when they noticed a large crane at work, alerted county officials. An inspector verified that no permit for the work existed, leading to issuance of a ‘stop work’ order and a fine.

Houston, Florida, New York, Connecticut

Construction of a massive Amazon warehouse just southwest of Houston began in June 2020. The new fulfilment centre, on a 93.5 acre site, will have an 855,000 square feet footprint. Amazon built its first facility in the area, in north Houston, a few years ago, receiving a 10-year tax break from Harris County that was expected to save the company $180,000 annually. Elsewhere in the Houston area Amazon also has a fulfilment centre in Brookshire and a sorting facility near George Bush Intercontinental Airport. In central Florida the aforementioned Amazon air cargo hub at Lakeland Linder Airport is taking shape, a 300,000 square foot, three storey building taking up 47 acres of airport land. Then in July Amazon secured approval to build what might be its largest distribution facility in South Florida, near the Homestead Air Reserve Base in south Miami-Dade.

Site of new Amazon distribution centre in Miami-Dade

In New York, work on Amazon’s 450,000 square foot last mile facility in Bloomfield, Staten Island was deemed essential construction during the Covid-19 pandemic. Amazon already has a facility in Staten Island, an 855,000 square foot distribution centre opened on the West Shore in 2017. On 23rd June Amazon inked an agreement to lease space for an even bigger facility in Queens. A disused containerboard factory will be demolished and replaced with a massive 1 million square foot four-storey warehouse which will be the largest in New York City. Simultaneously, steel girders were being erected for an Amazon distribution centre in Clay, a town in Onondaga, a northern suburb of Syracuse. Upon completion, scheduled for autumn 2021 in time for Christmas deliveries, the five-storey, 3.8 million square foot facility will, in term of floorspace, be one of the largest in the world. Jobs will be created, but mainly for robots. Employing just 1,000 people it will be one of Amazon’s most automated sites. Little remains of the golf course that previously occupied the site, for 73 years. Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency approved $70.8 million in tax breaks for this Amazon distribution centre project.

On 26th May 2020 a second Amazon warehouse/distribution centre in Windsor, Connecticut received local land use approvals. The 147 acre hub will be built on former tobacco farmland. Amazon, aiming to start construction in the third quarter of 2020, sought multi-year tax breaks for the development. Windsor’s economic development commission obliged, recommending approval of a seven-year 100% cent tax abatement. The site is on the Bradley Airport Connector highway connecting Bradley Airport with Interstate-91, the major north–south transportation corridor in central Connecticut.

Map showing site of new Amazon warehouse in Windsor, Connecticut, next to Bradley International Airport and connector highway

The tax breaks for the new Amazon facility, approved by Windor town council, were more modest than had been suggested: a three-year 50% abatement of real property taxes plus a 50% reduction in building permit fees. Amazon is projected to net savings of $8.78 million from the deal. Good Jobs First expressed its opinion on granting tax incentives to Amazon in a tweet:

Chicago distribution hubs reawaken 3rd airport plans

On 22nd June Amazon decided to open two distribution centres in the south suburbs of Chicago, in Matteson and Markham, each measuring 855,000 square feet and anticipated to employ 1,000 people. The low employment density ratio is partly due to automation; the facilities will use ‘the newest generation of Amazon robots’ to pick, pack and ship goods. Several officials said Amazons’ decision to locate the warehouses in Matteson and Markham strengthened the case for proceeding with the long proposed south suburban airport in Peotone, as an air cargo hub. The new Amazon facilities are within a few miles of the airport project site. Government funding for road construction linking to the airport site is already allocated: more than $205 million from the Rebuild Illinois infrastructure plan for construction of Interstate 57 (I-57) related to the airport property. David Greising, president and Chief Executive of the Better Government Association, wrote that area would be better served with road and bridge upgrades serving rail and trucking routes than by ‘sinking $205 million into an “airport to nowhere” off I-57 toward Peotone’.

A third major Chicago region airport, on farmland in Peotone, has been proposed since the 1980s. Illinois Department of Transportation started buying land surrounding the site in 2002, amassing 5,000 acres of the proposed 6,000 acres for the ‘inaugural footprint’ for the airport. Farmer Judy Ogalla, who owns land in the proposed airport site where she grows corn, soybeans and wheat, said “We have great soil…It doesn’t have any sense to pave over that when we have an airport in Gary.” Kevin Brubaker of the Environmental Law and Policy Center said construction of the airport would destroy 1,200 acres of flood plains and 180 acres of wetlands. Opposition to Peotone airport has been sustained by Shut This Airport Nightmare Down, a group composed of environmentalists, farmers and other residents.

Amazon’s cloud cluster, data centres housed in another set of ubiquitous grey warehouses, casts an ever heavier earthly footprint. Already Amazon operates more than 50 data centres in Loudoun County, Northern Virginia, the largest single concentration of corporate data centres on the planet. Amazon seeks to expand this by building a massive, 2.5 million square feet, data centre campus south of Dulles Airport. This is one of five potential Amazon data centre projects being developed as the cloud cluster becomes a ‘cloud corridor’. Amazon and its development partners have been land banking, buying parcels of land for future development, adjcacent to Dulles Airport. Some Loudoun County community members are critical of data centre design and location. Over 100 data centres lining major roads dominate the visual landscape and lead to tensions over noise in residential neighbourhoods.

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.