Evictions of communities close to Jacksons Airport

A drive to evict informal settlers living on parcels of land around Jacksons Airport, Papua New Guinea’s main airport located to the northeast of Port Moresby, was announced in the early days of 2022. Residents of the Saiwara community protested being issued with several eviction notices over the past year by the National Airports Corporation (NAC), the most recent giving them until the end of the month to vacate the area. A petition against the eviction was signed by 5,000 residents and a representative stated that they had been paying a traditional landowner for the land. Many tax-paying small and medium sized enterprises (SME’s) also urged the government to stop the evictions. A video by EMTV Online shows men, women and children protesting, some holding up placards with statements such as ‘No Eviction Please’, ‘No Eviction, What is Government doing For My Future’.

In January 2022 residents of the Saiwara community next to Jacksons Airport protested eviction notices issued by the National Airports Corporation (NAC)

Simultaneous with the eviction drive in Saiwara, NAC began pressuring residents to vacate Erima, another area adjacent to Jacksons Airport. A group of policemen visited communities and issued eviction notices. A long term resident said, “Police said the land close to the airport belongs to the National Airports Corporation and people must move out before the eviction date.” NAC managing director Rex Kiponge stated that the land belonged to NAC and that people must vacate the land by the end of January. He said, “I personally witnessed and heard from the police that any settlement or houses near the airport must be immediately moved out of force will be applied” and urged people living in the affected area to find a place to resettle.

Graphic from video showing parcels of land surrounding Jacksons Airport that the National Airports Corporation (NAC) lays claim to and where residents have been served with eviction notices. Image: Saiwara Eviction Notice, EMTV Online, 11/01/2022

A graphic in the EMTV Online video shows the parcels of land surrounding Jacksons Airport that the NAC lays claim to and where residents have been served with eviction notices. NAC managing director Rex Kiponge explained that the eviction drive was a strategic move to utilize the land for a non-aeronautical revenue stream, i.e. generation of revenue from sources other than airlines. (Typical sources of non-aeronautical revenue include retail, hotels, tourism facilities, business premises, real estate and car parking.) Kiponge also mentioned another hallmark characteristic of an aerotropolis/airport city: aspiriations for an airport to become a destination in its own right. He said that eviction of people from land around Jacksons Airport would support NAC’s new policy, namely ‘Converting Airports from Point of Transit to Point of Destination’. NAC’s focus on development of land for non-aeronautical purposes has been galvanised by a collapse in its revenue stream due to the drastic reduction in air traffic since the Covid-19 pandemic. Previously, NAC’s revenue had consisted of 80% from aeronautical business and 20% from non-aeronautical business. Kiponge said the NAC needed to start generating its own revenue and recouping its assets was in line with this aim.

Following questions in Parliament from member for Moresby North East, John Kaupa, PNG Prime Minister James Marape intervened, assuring settlers on airport-owned land at Erima and Saiwara that they would not be evicted by the NAC until a permanent solution was reached. He asked NAC to freeze their eviction plan. But the settlers are still under pressure to leave; Marape warned them not to move in onto state land and start building structures if they are not in possession of titles, saying that the Government would not step in to assist anyone on humanitarian grounds.

Over 200 families residing in Erima Bridge were evicted and left sleeping out in the open without food or water in February 2017. Photo: EMTV, 06/02/2017 (date accessed 06/02/2017)

The current drive to evict communities living around Jacksons Airport is the latest in a series. In February 2017 police evicted more than 200 families who were living on state-owned land in Erima Bridge. Some of them had lived in makeshift and semi-permanent housing for more than 20 years. The officer in charge of Jacksons Airport said the police were acting on the orders of the land owned by the NAC and that over the course of a week all the houses and tents in the area in question had been removed. It was reported that they were left sleeping out in cold, wet weather conditions for a few days. Their only shelter was wooden frames and roofing iron and they had no food, water or clothing. A settler who had moved to Erima from the Highlands region said some people whose homes were destroyed had not received an eviction notice. At the time of the Erima Bridge eviction the Asian Development Bank (ADB) confirmed support for expansion of Jacksons Airport, signing an agreement with NAC to develop a new international passenger terminal. In May 2015 a demolition exercise at another settlement near Jacksons Airport, 7 mile, left more than 200 people homeless. Some of them were beaten up by the eviction squad. Evictees lost all they owned during the demolition and some homes were burned down. The eviction was part of NAC’s development plan for Jacksons Airport.

Information about evictions of communities surrounding Jacksons Airport has been published on EJatlas, the world’s largest, most comprehensive online database of social conflict around environmental issues: Jacksons Airport and evictions from land claimed by National Airports Corporation, PNG

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.

Industry insight into airport-owned land

Industry websites are often enlightening regarding the workings of airport-centric commercial development (often referred to as an ‘aerotropolis’). This article in business website AreaDevelopment is a case in point. Entitled ‘Open for Business: Airports as Real Estate Developer and Strategic Partner‘ the article emphasizes the scale of airport land ownership and its role in airport income generation, seeing opportunities for business from airports as they ‘control large swathes of prime real estate’.

Airports used to be situated on the periphery of cities. Now hotels, shopping malls, tourist facilities such as casinos, offices and other business premises cluster around airports. The article explains that the majority of airports aim to attract non-aviation businesses to locate on ‘the lands and properties they control’ and that this provides a stream of ‘non-aeronautical revenue’. Many airports generate more non-aeronautical revenue than they receive in fees charged to airlines for landing and terminal services. Non-aeronautical revenue is used for airport maintenance and expansion. Thus a symbiotic relationship is established between growth of the airport and growth of the non-aviation commercial activity surrounding it. Many airport estates are so expansive that they even encompass ‘natural features like streams, beaches, and other conservation areas on their vast lands’. Undeveloped areas of natural beauty are additional assets for the airport, which can be served up as ‘attractions’ for visitors and the local community, while the airport and airport linked businesses continue with the main business of concreting over the majority of green space at their disposal for various industrial and commercial purposes.

Airport-owned land aims to host particular types of businesses – transnational firms which operate globally, import or export goods/components, require just-in-time delivery of goods/components and with staff frequently flying to and from business premises. All these are characteristics of aviation dependency. Reliance on air services is designed into the airport centric development.

The article describes the relationship between airports and surrounding development as ‘industrial ecology’. Airport centric development is indeed ‘ecology’ in the sense that there is an interdependence. But it is the very opposite of the ‘ecology’ of natural systems. Use of airport-owned land for aviation dependent business is a driver for economic growth built on profligate resource consumption, pollution, destruction of nature through building on green space and fossil fuel dependent long distance transportation. Businesses are selected as tenants on airport land on the basis that they will maximise the throughput of passengers and/or cargo. Locally based firms aiming to source inputs from nearby, to target local markets and/or transport goods using surface transport – minimizing fossil fuel use in transportation, with consequent reduction in greenhouse gases emissions – won’t get a look in.

The article is also enlightening regarding governance of the land in question, gushing enthusiastically about the high degree of autonomy that airports have over the land that they own. It makes an important distinction: airport land that is state owned is ‘not under the jurisdiction of local authorities’. And whether state owned or privatized, the airport has a high degree of self-governance, acting like a mini-state. The article enthuses over airport estates’ relative freedom from democratic control by the host community, stating that the land in question is ‘unfettered by local planning restrictions’.

Airport centric developments are evolving a dual role, combining the authority of the state (minus the the accountability that is ensured by democratic input) with the profit motive driving a corporation. As the article phrases it airports are ‘turning themselves into real estate developers, landlords and astute local authorities’. Commercial development on airport-owned land is a fast growing mechanism for state capitalism.