Flights of folly at Dublin airport

Fallout from the recent Brexit vote may prove something of a gift for the Dublin Airport Authority’s (DAA) ambitious plan to have a second runway built and ready for business by 2020.

The huge cloud of economic uncertainty now parked over Britain may put the kibosh on its own 2015 Airport Commission recommendation for a third runway at Heathrow, at the eye-watering cost of almost €23 billion. The fact that Boris Johnson fiercely opposes the Heathrow expansion plan hardly increases its chances of success.

Another heavy hitter against the Heathrow plan (on cost grounds) is Willie Walsh’s IAG, owners of Aer Lingus. One of the reasons IAG splashed out for Ireland’s national carrier was to access Dublin as a cheaper hub.

Planning permission for Dublin airport’s second runway was issued in 2007, using a land bank bought up by the DAA as far back as the 1960s. The crash of 2008 saw expansion plans mothballed. However, since 2011, passenger numbers have rebounded strongly, growing by some 35% to over 25 million in 2015.

The price tag on the Dublin airport expansion is put at €320 million, a trifling sum relative to the multi-billion euro Heathrow plan. However, the sting in the tail for the DAA is that the planning permission, from Fingal County Council, came with 31 conditions, one of which, to reduce noise impacts on local residents, severely caps the number of takeoffs or landings at both the new and existing runway between 11pm and 7am.

This presents a serious pickle for the DAA’s chief, ex-Glanbia high flier Kevin Toland, who has been brought in specifically to deliver major growth at the airport. Toland was recently quizzed by Fingal councillors, one of whom wondered if the DAA’s assumptions about future growth in aviation demand actually took account of the Paris Agreement on climate change, which has been signed up to by the DAA’s sole shareholder, the Irish state.

Toland’s stance appeared to suggest that neither he nor the Irish government are losing too much sleep over the likelihood that Ireland might actually treat its binding EU and international commitments on sharply reducing emissions in any way seriously.

Considering the government is happy to allow another state-owned company, Bord na Móna to continue wrecking Ireland’s most important natural carbon sinks until at least 2030 suggests Toland is correct in not being too concerned about his political masters actually acting on emissions reductions any time soon.

In a letter to Fingal councillor David Healy, the DAA described the conditions of use attached to their planning permission as “onerous”. New EU regulations on noise abatement came into effect in June 2016 and the DAA has made it clear it would like a more ‘flexible’ agency to be overseeing the interpretation of its planning permission than An Bord Pleanála, and has strongly hinted that unless it gets it, the second runway is off the table (an as-yet unidentified agency is being teed up for this task).

This is designed to pile political pressure on a government already sold on growth-at-all-costs, one that views regulating climate change as annoying red tape rather than critical to human safety and welfare. Ireland’s National Aviation Policy (ie. expand and grow aviation) clearly trumps the 2015 Climate Action & Low Carbon Development Act, which, in theory, binds all sectors of the Irish economy towards achieving strong, permanent cuts in carbon emissions.

Thanks to Food Harvest 2020 and FoodWise 2025, our agri sector’s emissions will continue to spiral, while the transport and energy sectors are faring little better.

The deepening climate crisis makes Ireland building massive new aviation capacity seem more an act of international sabotage than rational policy, but measured purely in terms of narrow self-interest, it’s a sure fire winner.

*The above article was recently published in a well-known satirical magazine

ThinkOrSwim is a blog by journalist John Gibbons focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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