Opponents in Austria delighted by court decision to ban Vienna 3rd runway due to CO2, but airport may appeal

Austria’s Federal Administrative Court has blocked Vienna airport’s plans for a 3rd runway because of the extra greenhouse gas emissions it would have caused, and unacceptable loss of agricultural land.  The airport and its allies are furious and have sworn to break this ruling. Legally they should not be able to because ordinary appeal was excluded. They must overcome the very high hurdles of an extraordinary appeal, but opponents fear they will try to get this. The appeal would have to make transparent what is at stake:  is Austria going to take climate change seriously or not? In the UK we have the same problem, but our courts are clearly not mandated in the same way in relation to climate change (air quality is separate). Calculations show the 3rd runway, with its traffic projections, would have been by far the most polluting project in terms of GHG-emissions, and would have destroyed several hundred hectares of agricultural land – needed to grow food. Some of the Austrian media are taking the line that such a decision is not to be made by the court but by politicians, and that the Austrian economy should be more important than the climate. So the airport and Vienna city (20% shareholder of the Vienna airport stock corporation) want to appeal. Opponents are worried.


Opponents of the runway say:

[The comments may not be fully accurate, as there are complex legal arguments, but this is the understanding of the local group].


They are nervous that all the pressure could finally lead to an approval of the runway.

The court sentence is only in German so far, but trying to summarise it – it says

The decision is based on § 71 Luftfahrtgesetz (aviation law), which says that an airport approval shall be given if:  “… d) it is not in conflict with other public interests.“

This gives the judges the mandate to balance interests – something which wasn’t done in the first round of the environmental impact assessment at the court of lower Austria (which also has a 20% share of the airport).

The court ruled that the interest of climate mitigation and preservation of agricultural land was more important than the one of economic growth and jobs.

It lists in its argumentation the political decisions around this: the signature of Kyoto and Paris, regulations from federal and state constitutions, the Austrian climate mitigation strategy (2012) which demands to “take into account possible effects of climate change in all relevant planning and decision making processes on the national until the local level“.

Austria’s climate mitigation law sets yearly targets for GHG-emissions, also by sector. The court decision says: “In the transport sector GHG emissions should decrease from 22,2 to 21.7%, which would be a decrease of 2,25%. The construction and operation of the third runway would cause an increase of 1.79% or rather [bzw.] 2,02 % of the whole GHG-emissions in Austria.“

This means that the runway would attack Austria’s own climate strategy, which is the reason for not accepting the construction. Especially, since the airport itself cannot compensate for the emissions itself (which may be interpreted to mean that if the airport used more offsetting, the verdict could have been different …).

Regarding the agricultural land and forest aspect: The verdict says there is no possibility of compensation (biodiversity offsetting) of areas nearby – and compensation of forest would lead to even less agricultural land.  State regulations demand a restriction of the destruction of arable land, but the runway would lead to a destruction of an area of land which in the recent rate takes 2 months (11.5 ha of arable land are consumed for transport and construction projects in Austria daily).

Opponents of the runway hope that this court case can be an example for other high carbon emission projects – and that it doesn’t get over-ruled .]

If you want to support the Austrian campaigners,  use Twitter (hashtags #HeißeLuft and #DrittePiste) and like/share/comment their Facebook page .


Court in Austria blocks 3rd runway at Vienna airport, as climate harm outweighs a few more jobs

A court in Austria has ruled that Vienna Schwechat Airport cannot be expanded with a 3rd runway, on climate change grounds. It said the increased greenhouse gas emissions for Austria would cause harm and climate protection is more important than creating other jobs. The court said the ability of the airport to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by its own measures were not sufficient, and emissions would rise too much. It also said it was important to conserve valuable arable land for future generations to provide food supplies. The airport will appeal. It is using the same false arguments that the DfT and Heathrow are using here – that building a 3rd runway would (allegedly) reduce the amount of carbon emissions and noise because they claim (against common logic) that “fuel consumption and the noise are reduced, because the waiting times of the aircraft would be avoided at peak times.” The airport hopes the runway would bring more tourists into Austria to spend their money, and would be needed by 2025. The airport had 22.8 million passengers in 2015.  It is a mystery how such a low number of passengers could require 3 runways, when there is barely enough to fill one, let alone two, runway.

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Climate change worries halt Vienna airport’s third runway

(The Local – Austria)

10 February 2017

A court has blocked Vienna airport’s plans for a third runway saying it would have resulted in greater greenhouse gas emissions, in a verdict described by lawyers as a first.

Austria’s Federal Administrative Court said in a ruling published late on Thursday that the “positive aspects of the project cannot justify the high extra carbon dioxide pollution.”

A third runway would result in a “significant” rise in greenhouse gas output, contravening the country’s domestic and international undertakings to reduce emissions, a statement said.

“The airport’s possibilities to reduce CO2 emissions through its own measures (such as the installation of solar panels and changing its vehicles to electric cars) were insufficient,” it added.

“As far as I know this is unique that climate protection is used as an argument to block a concrete plan,” Christian Schmelz, a lawyer for the airport, told the newspaper Die Presse.

Erika Wagner, head of the Environmental Law Institute at Linz University, called it a “landmark ruling”.