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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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’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 breaksand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
A rural tabula rasa and highway urbanisation
In an article published in Economic & Political Weekly ‘Fragmentary 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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.