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A380 at Frankfurt Airport

No crisis for airport builders

RobK(Photo: Jurvetson)

Everybody in Europe is beginning to feel the pinch of the financial and economic crisis gripping the continent. But there is one sector which appears to be set on an upward course: the building industry, and particularly that section which is constructing new airports. Poland is the champion of new airports. All over the country cities are planning new facilities for air travel. At Swidnik, near the EU's eastermost border at Lublin, Poland's 13th international airport is expected to open next month.

The authorities are counting on the 300,000 air passengers per year who are now having to travel from Lublin to Warsaw airport in order to catch a plain. If these passengers use their new local airport instead, the costs will be covered.

One of the factors which stimulated air travel over the first half of this year was the European Football championship, in which a number of Polish cities acted as host cities. Passenger counts in Gdansk, Breslau and Poznan rose by 25 percent. New terminals are set to open in the latter two cities, as well as Rzesow and Lodz in the near future.

Some of the airport expansions will be paid for by EU funds. But this money comes with strings attached Earlier experiences have shown, however, that the EU requirements
attached to the subsidy could scupper airport building plans. In Bialystok EU funds had to be reassigned to road construction because the airport´s plans fell short of the EU´s rules for the protection of the environment.

Big planes
Work will begin this week on an extension of the airport of Frankfurt, the European Union's financial capital. Gate A at Terminal 1 of Rhein-Main airport will be enlarged. In this case it's not so much rising passenger numbers which dictated the enlargement, but technical advances. The new, large Airbus A380 and Boeing B747-8 aircraft are not able to be serviced adequately at the existing infrastructure in Frankfurt. Also, new EU safety regulations for passenger handling require improvements to the airport's layout.

Plans for a new airport in London are not ready for take off yet. Heathrow airport cannot be extended any further because it is in a constrained area, and no politician could ever defend knocking down yet another village to make way for a new runway.

London's Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson has proposed building a new air hub on an island in the Thames Estuary east of the British capital, at a cost of 23 billion pounds. The idea of a major new airport on "Boris Island" as it has been nicknamed, has met with a whole range of objections.

One problem to be solved is that British Airways, whose participation as the main carrier is essential for the plan, does not want to leave Heathrow in favour of the new Thames hub. Once the new hub in the Thames is up and running, Heathrow, which is to the west of London, would have to be downsized, leading to the the loss of thousands of local jobs.

The British building industry, meanwhile, is looking on with eager anticipation. Maybe they'll even have to bring in Polish workers to lend them a hand when the island airport finally gets built. - (IEDE)

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