Aerotropolis alert! Airport mega-projects driving environmental destruction worldwide

Isn't she lovely ... ! Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) has reached agreement with the US-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority to develop, build and operate a 'first-of-its-kind gateway entertainment city' in South Korea integrated with a
Isn't she lovely ... ! Incheon International Airport Corporation (IIAC) has reached agreement with the US-based Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority to develop, build and operate a 'first-of-its-kind gateway entertainment city' in South Korea integrated with a new airport development with direct links to China. Photo: Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority.
Governments and corporations are driving a global wave of ecologically disastrous airport-centered mega-projects each destroying as much of 100 of farmland and forests - sucking water, resources and economic activity from surrounding areas, excluding host communities and locking in high-carbon infrastructure for decades to come.
The aerotropolis is a disastrous model of development. Those working for social, economic and environmental justice must unite in opposing the fast-tracked planning and construction that is taking place around the world.

All over the world, major developments called an 'aerotropolis', or airport city, are being constructed, planned and announced.

An aerotropolis is an airport-centric development. Inverting the traditional model of airport development, the airport is not built to serve a city. A city is built around an airport.

Aerotropolis-style development began in Europe and the US in the 1990s, most notably around Schiphol and Dallas/Fort Worth airports. The most ambitious aerotropolis plans in Africa and Asia are on an even larger scale, with sites of 100 square kilometres or more.

An aerotropolis is not a settlement for people. It is an urban form enabling explosive growth in aviation dependent tourism and trade. Commercial development is clustered around an existing or new airport, and is integrated with air services.

Development on aerotropolis sites is designed to make use of aviation services, thus maximising the airport's passenger and cargo throughput. Airport passengers are funnelled through shopping malls, hotels, cultural venues and office complexes. Manufacturing, assembly and logistics facilities are linked with the airport's cargo operations.

A symbiotic relationship is established, mutually reinforcing growth of the airport and the commercial development surrounding it. The aerotropolis locks us into aviation dependency, bringing an inevitable massive increase in fossil fuel consumption and worsening the climate crisis.

Loss of farmland and forests

Aerotropolis-style development requires large, preferably greenfield (undeveloped), sites. When farmland is earmarked for aerotropolis development rural communities face displacement and vast tracts of fertile soil are paved over.

Greenfield sites that are not cultivated are inevitably wildlife habitats including forests, so construction means irrevocable loss of biodiversity and deforestation. The growth imperative driving aerotropolis developments is a recipe for urban sprawl, destroying ever more agricultural land and wildlife habitats.

At the beginning of April, announcement of acquisition of 60 square kilometres of farmland for a greenfield airport in Bhogapuram, Andhra Pradesh, was immediately met with major protests.

About 7,000 people from 16 villages demonstrated outside government offices and blocked the main highway between Chennai and Kolkata for over an hour, defying a threat by police that anyone participating in this action would be arrested. Villagers expressed concerns that they would be forced to give up their land for inadequate compensation.

In Taiwan, planned expropriation of 37 square kilometres of land, mostly highly fertile farmland, for Taoyuan Aerotropolis threatens to displace 46,000 people.

The aerotropolis is a disastrous model of development. Those working for social, economic and environmental justice must unite in opposing the fast-tracked planning and construction that is taking place around the world.

There are no clear plans for much of the site, and once land is zoned for commercial use, its value rockets upwards, lining the pockets of construction firms, clear evidence that the aerotropolis is a pretext for a land grab. Affected residents and their supporters have held endless protests against land acquisition and eviction.

Kilimanjaro International Airport in Tanzania claims 110 square kilometres of land as its "estate", upon which it intends to establish "massive shopping centres, high class tourist hotels, duty free ports, Export Processing Zones, educational institutions, custom bonded warehouses, curio shops, golf courses and a large game ranch." Over 10,000 people living in Maasai pastoralist communities on the site are resisting displacement.

In Nepal, 80 square kilometres of predominantly forested land has been earmarked for a second Kathmandu airport, at Nijgadh. The Nepalese government allocated nearly US$5 million for preparatory works, including fencing off the site and felling the forest, clearing the land in preparation for a potential Malaysian investor.

Ministries reported disputes with locals over demarcation of the airport area and resettlement before handing the project over to investors.

Megalomaniacal megaprojects from Indonesia to Istanbul

In terms of scale and budget major aerotropolis developments are among the largest megaprojects being planned and implemented by governments and corporations.

Frequently, the bigger picture is that an aerotropolis is a key component of an integrated complex of destructive megaprojects - multi-lane road networks, deep water ports, logistics hubs and trade / growth / development corridors aiming to reshape the economic map.

Construction of Istanbul's third airport is tearing up forests north of the city. Even if the airport achieves its goal of becoming the world's busiest, handling 150 million passengers annually, the site, covering nearly 77 square kilometres, far exceeds the area required for aviation operations.

The aerotropolis is part of a megaproject complex - comprising a third bridge over the Bosphorus Strait, a canal running parallel with it linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara, a three level sea tunnel running under the Bosphorus and a motorway.

Wildlife habitats are being destroyed and wild boars, their food sources removed and with nowhere else to go, are often spotted roaming the streets of Istanbul.

King Shaka Airport aerotropolis is the focal point of a freight-oriented megaproject: Dube Trade Port, an integrated multimodal hub with ambitions to become a "crucial gateway to South Africa."

In turn, Dube Trade Port is a key component of an "industrial integrated township" that "will help provide easy access and a one-stop shop for international investors, manufacturers and industrialists" and is an "important part of the government's pipeline of major infrastructure development projects" including a logistics and industrial corridor.

Kuala Namu Airport, built on a former palm plantation on the Indonesian island of Sumatra is to be integrated with two ports, Belawan and Kuala Tanjung, and will support development of strategic industrial areas and the Sei Mangke Special Economic Zone.

The airport opened in the midst of lingering land acquisition protests in five villages. Construction of a toll road was stalled as affected residents refused to accept a compensation package. A conference presentation boasts of 100 square kilometres of land "available for development" outside the airport fence.

Centralized planning, community exclusion

Host communities are largely excluded from the governance of aerotropolis projects. Heavy-handed, centralised planning of an unprecedented magnitude designates the site and ensures provision of the requisite 'network infrastructure': highways, power and water supply and telecoms.

The airport, or a consortium, is granted a high degree of autonomy over the project. In many cases foreign investors are major shareholders, placing the project even further from control of local residents.

Singapore based Changi Airports International (CAI) is an investor in Andal Aerotropolis in West Bengal, a project which has been dogged by resistance to land acquisition since 2009.

Lavished with tax breaks by the state government - exemption from land transfer tax, a major source of revenue, and a waiver on jet fuel sales tax - the project benefits from a high level of financial support from citizens, yet it is unaccountable to them.

In January, Andal Aerotropolis was bestowed with 'industrial township' status granting it a sweeping range of powers including planning and tax collection. An official said "the project will become an autonomous body and shall have all the municipality powers." In April CAI raised its stake in the project from 26% to 32.2%.

Lion Air, Indonesia's largest privately run airline, has been granted a permit to develop a second Jakarta airport in Lebak, with a commercial centre including a shopping city. The CEO of the parent company, Lion Group, declined to elaborate on consortium's business partners. The regional government is clearing 40 square kilometres of land for the project.

The Ethiopian government is in the process of selecting a 144 square kilometre site for a new Addis Ababa airport. Five possible sites, which the project spokesperson declined to name, will be presented to the government for decision.

All of these include large areas of farmland, and would necessitate relocation of over 10,000 people. Identification of the potential sites for the 'mega-hub project' was undertaken at a great distance from communities standing to be affected, using satellite images.

Economic enclaves that only concentrate economic activity

Aerotropolis schemes claim to act as 'economic engines' galvanising growth in the wider region. A more accurate description of an aerotropolis is an economic enclave; the primary goal is to concentrate economic activity within the project boundary.

Aerotropolis developments aim to be self-contained and aspire to become "destinations in their own right" - where passengers shop, eat, stay in hotels, enjoy cultural and entertainment activities and conduct business meetings.

Freight related aerotropolis development is boosted by economic zones, located within the project boundary, adjacent or connected by highways. These zones, promoting international trade, go by a variety of names, unifying factors being a raft of tax breaks - giving tenants an unfair advantage over other businesses and eroding the tax base - other incentives, and unparalleled connective infrastructure.

Examples include Dube Tradeport IDZ (Industrial Development Zone), adjoining King Shaka Airport in South Africa, which describes itself as the "heart of the emerging Aerotropolis". Several of India's Special Economic Zones (SEZs) are linked with airports, including the Multimodal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur (MIHAN).

Tenants of Enterprise Zones near Manchester and Newquay airports in the UK are granted a Business Rate discount of £275,000 per eligible business.

In China, where megaproject planning is particularly unconstrained by democratic processes, the model for aerotropolis development is that the airport is encompassed within a massive 'airport economic zone'.

Is China the new Texas - where everything is bigger?

The Airport Economic Zone planned around Beijing Capital Airport spans 170 square kilometres and is dedicated to "boosting the city's airport-based economy." The 415 square kilometre Zhengzhou Airport Economic Zone was established in March 2013.

Aviation dependent businesses also benefit from the almost universal tax exemption on fuel for international flights, a substantial subsidy. Local small and medium sized enterprises are marginalised as the aerotropolis serves the growth and profits of transnational corporations.

The aerotropolis provides physical infrastructure and a supporting regulatory framework for turbocharging corporate globalisation.

The aerotropolis is a disastrous model of development. Those working for social, economic and environmental justice must unite in opposing the fast-tracked planning and construction that is taking place around the world.



Rose Bridger (@RoseKBridger) is a founder member of the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM) and the author of 'Plane Truth: Aviation's Real Impact on People and the Environment', published by Pluto Press.

Join the Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), formed to research aerotropolis developments, support local struggles against specific projects and build an international campaign community.

More about Aerotropolis in Chapter 11 of Rose's book 'Plane Truth', now available to read online on Issuu.

Organisations supporting GAAM as founder members are: AirportWatch, UK; AirportWatch Europe, Pastoralists Indigenous NGO's (PINGO'S Forum), Tanzania; Third World Network (TWN); Tourism Advocacy & Action Forum (TAAF) and Tourism Investigation & Monitoring Team (tim-team), Thailand.

Facebook: GAAMovement

Twitter: @AntiAeroGAAM



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